London: The Forgotten Hanseatic City

Thursday, 14 June 2007
Barnard’s Inn Hall

Die Hanse (the Hansa - the Hanseatic League) was a northern European co-operative and alliance of between 70 and 200 towns and cities such as Lübeck, Hamburg, Malmö, Bruges, Danzig, Cologne, Rostock and Bremen, able to form contracts and liable as joint debtors for the offences of individual members. The Hansa had a lasting influence on our notions of commerce, economic association, the importance of free trade and the role of the nation state. The first formal mention of the Hansa dates from 1283 and, through various ups and downs, the last material event was in 1669 (though the Hansa was never formally dissolved), with the Hansa's heyday in the 15th century. The Hansa left an enduring legend of the vitality of free and wealthy trading cities. The Hansa established trading routes and transportation patterns from Iceland and the Shetlands to the Mediterranean. The name lives on in various forms, including Lufthansa.
Because of King Edward IV's disputes with the Hansa, it is often forgotten that London itself was a Hanseatic city. The Stalhof (Steelyard), an area near today's Cannon Street, was given tax and customs concessions by Edward I in 1303 and not dissolved until Lübeck, Bremen and Hamburg sold their common property in 1853.

Part One: 'The Hanseatic League' and 'Other UK Hansa Towns'

The first part of the symposium included the following talks:

   The Hanseatic League - Professor Rainer Postel, Bundeswehr Universität

   Other UK Hansa Towns - Dr Paul Richards

Chaired by Professor Tim Connell

Listen to the lecture

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Transcript of the lecture




Professor Tim Connell


A) English overseas trade

In this modern world of the G8, the WTO and the IMF it is heartening to see that international trade has always been a major factor in world affairs. And the expansion of the European Union should, perhaps, be looked at in terms of an earlier world where power lay in the hands of cities rather than states, and goods were traded by river and sea. So, as a Man of Kent, let me start with a story set along the Thames Estuary.[PIC1 RECULVER]

In 1786 a local antiquarian noticed that the fishermen's wives in the Kentish town of Whitstable had a special recipe for Ash Wednesday, a pie which was always cooked in a dark red earthenware pan, which looked just like a piece of Roman Samian ware pottery. On closer inspection it transpired that it was Roman Samian ware pottery, which had been dredged up in large quantities from the legendary Pudding Pan Rock, which lies about three miles WNW of Reculver. Evidently a merchant ship had sunk there in Roman times, which is proof of regular trade (by river and sea) between the Continent and Britain some 2000 years ago.[i]

International trade and travel in the Middle Ages were also extensive.


 In the Canterbury Tales Chaucer's Shipman has sailed as far North as Gotland and as far South as Finisterre. The Knight has served in Turkey, Alexandria and modern-day Algeria, plus Lithuania and Russia, which is important for today's story.[ii] The Knight's son has been on raids in Flanders, Artois and Picardy.[iii] The gat-toothed Wife of Bath has been to Jerusalem three times (which seems a bit far-fetched), but she has also been on pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela, Cologne and Rome, which is where the Pardoner has just been. The Merchant worries about the security of the narrow seas between Harwich and the Hook of Holland, which indicates regular trade. And all of that in the 1380s.

[PIC3: 2 MAPS OF BALTIC - early and late]

Today's topic involves a detailed look at the North: the Baltic, Scandinavia, Northern Germany, Russia, Poland and Ukraine, and not forgetting the Low Countries. The political shape of the Baltic, of course, was very different from that of modern times. Poland was a major player, and Denmark the dominant Scandinavian power. The Livonian Federation was the consequence of the Crusade that Chaucer's Knight served in, and was controlled by the Teutonic knights we see in the Battle on the Ice in Eisenstein's classic film Alexander Nevsky.[iv]


Sweden was the main military power, and it was not until the Great Northern War (1700-1721)  that Russia became dominant in the region.[v]

In these sparsely populated expanses, cities rather than states predominate. The lost city of Birka, not Stockholm, is for many centuries the key city in Sweden, for example,[vi] while Novgorod and Kiev are more significant than Moscow, and of course St Petersburg is not founded until 1703. Rivers, predictably, are more important than roads amidst these wild expanses.



B) Trade in the Baltic

 In early times, trade in the Baltic was extensive, but more between cities than states. Visby on Gotland, Hedeby in Denmark and Kaupang in Norway are tangible evidence of the extent of trade across the region and beyond.[vii]


The Vikings, we now know, traded as much as they fought, and their links extended as far as Byzantium where the Varangian Guard included Scandinavians and Anglo-Saxons.

The merchants of Novgorod and Kiev also create a link between North-Western Europe and the East. They trade in natural raw materials rather than luxury goods, although Novgorod comes to prominence because of the squirrel fur trade, much in demand for use as the trimming on cloaks.


England and Flanders become known for the wool trade, a major economic driver in the Middle Ages, hence the mediaeval pack bridges, and those enormous churches in East Anglia, like this one at Lavenham.[viii]


The expansion of both the English merchant fleet and the Royal Navy leads to a growing demand for timber, pitch and cordage, hence the later significance of the Baltic Convoy.

The importation of silver is of increasing importance because of the need for coinage, itself an indication of the growing importance of a system of trade and reflects the need for a more formal commercial system, which is a factor in the emergence of the City of London.



C) Trading systems & London

Trade with Germany and the Low Countries has a lengthy past. They appear in Saxon documents (King Canute, of course, was on friendly terms with the Emperor Conrad II) and they may have owned property on the river bank, oddly enough near the later Steelyard site. There is a clear link with Cologne in a charter of Henry II, dated 1157.[ix] By the Thirteenth Century they were able to elect their own aldermen, and legend has it that they could also vote for the mayor, although out of delicacy they always voted for the winning candidate. A charter of Henry III in 1260 refers specifically to the Hanse, and it was at this time that they began to acquire a significant amount of property.[x] Privileges and high commercial standing led to some friction with the guilds, and their rights were revoked initially in 1551, though they were not finally expelled until 1598 (not 1578 as some sources indicate).[xi] There are sources which suggest that Sir Thomas Gresham himself was behind the expulsions, but although his Royal Exchange perhaps obviated the need for one national or regional group to have its own trading centre, this is less likely than as a result of the expansion of the Merchant Adventurers and the desire to wrest the wool trade from German merchants. Some of them continued to live in the vicinity of the Steelyard, however, and they were given land by Charles II to build a church.[xii] There were attempts up to the time of William III to re-gain their former privileges, but with only limited success in the form of exemption from some taxes.

The Steelyard itself was largely taken over by Elizabeth I for her Navy, but trading carried on there in a wide range of commodities, one of which was iron. The buildings were finally demolished in around 1865 and Cannon Street Station built on the site.[xiii]

London was clearly a focus for foreign trade and overseas enterprise from the early Modern Period. The exploits of early English navigators are well known in both the North Atlantic and Far East, with the setting-up of the Levant Company, the East India Company and the Hudson Bay Company, all of which bear the imprint of the City of London.

In today's context, the Muscovy Company is of particular significance. Ironically, it was set up as part of a scheme to find a North-East Passage to China and was linked to the Cathay Company, in which the Mercers and Sir Thomas Gresham were leading shareholders. In 1553 Sir Hugh Willoughby and Richard Chancellor led an expedition to Northern Russia. Willoughby was lost, but Chancellor was well received by Ivan the Terrible. Anglo-Russian relations were cordial because Ivan wanted a counter-balance to the trade controls of the Hanseatic League.[xiv] There was even a suggestion at one time that he might be a suitor for Queen Elizabeth I, which would have changed the course of history somewhat.[xv]    


But this is all about English trade reaching outwards, whereas the Hansa is a quite remarkable story of free trade and enterprise, based more on individuals and towns rather than states.

Our speakers today will be covering the Hanseatic Leaguefrom a variety of angles. We will have time for discussion at the end of the day, formally before we close the proceedings, and informally over a glass of wine.




[i] Thomas Pownell in Archaeologia, 1778. I know this is true as my Grandfather had one of the pots, in such good condition that you could read the maker's name on the underneath. Samian ware came mainly from along the River Rhone, in the vicinity of modern-day Clermont-Ferrand.

[ii] A contemporary audience would have recognised him from these actions as a mercenary, a member of the notorious White Company. He was in fact anything but a parfit gentil knyghte... See Chaucer's Knight,Methuen 1994 by ex-Python Terry Jones.

[iii] Again, these cross-border raids were far from chivalrous.

[iv] Oddly enough, the Battle on the Ice was filmed outside Moscow in a heatwave in June 1938.

See N Swallow (1976) Eisenstein, a documentary portrait, George Allen & Unwin.

[v] For more on the Great Northern War see

[vii] All three, like Birka, are world heritage sites:




[viii] For more on the Staple and the trade in East Anglia, see

[x] One difficulty in tracing the Hanse in London is that documents can be in a variety of languages, and both the Hanse and the merchants are referred to variously as Easterlings,  homines et cives Colonienses, or even Homines Imperatoris qui veniebant in navibus suis. The Steelyard appears variously as EsterlingeshalleLe SteelyerdeStyleyardStiliardeand even the Haus zu Calner.

[xi] And Gresham, of course, died in 1579.

[xii] This was on the site of  Holy Trinity the Less. (See Note 9 above.)  Nowadays, of course, German-speaking Lutherans may attend services at the Church of St Agnes and St Anne.

[xiii] A picture of the Steelyard in 1540, from Van Wyngard's Plan for Philip II of Spain, is to be seen at on page 31.

[xiv] The Muscovy Company flourished until 1698 and was not finally wound up until 1917.

[xv] Elizabeth I actually appears as a character in the Eisenstein film ofIvan the Terrible (1944.)


                                                                        ©Professor Tim Connell, Gresham College, 14 June 2007








Professor Rainer Postel


The Hanseatic League has been strongly investigated for a long time.  Nevertheless, confusions and misunderstandings continue to exist concerning its age, its characters and its members.  On the other hand, the Hansa often is glorified as a political, national or liberal alliance.  Hamburg, Lübeck and Bremen have called themselves Hanseatic cities since about 1815, although the Hanseatic League at that time had not existed for centuries.  Obviously, the title Hansa or Hanseatic tends to be connected with old and favourable traditions.  The subject of this conference shows some uncertainty as well, and naming Bruges among the Hanseatic cities in its announcement points to the same direction.  There was an important difference between Hanseatic cities as members of the Hanseatic community and cities abroad harbouring its trading ports, like the London Steelyard.  Perhaps it might be less desirable to belong to the old Hanseatic League having a more rational view about it, but even its contemporaries found it difficult to get clear about it, and the Hansa showed little readiness to give exact information about itself and the number of its members, to say nothing of the different status of those members within the community.  Just because there is neither a concrete year of foundation nor an exact date of death, the Hansa history is hard to grasp, and its definition has always been equally hard. 

Having deteriorated in the course of the 15th Century, English Hanseatic relations reached their lowest point when, in the summer of 1468, seven English ships were seized in the Sound by Danish vessels.  The Hansa was suspected to at least have favoured the attack.  The private council straightaway gave order to imprison the Hanseatic merchants in London and to confiscate their goods.  In order to compensate the English merchants, the Steelyard was partly destroyed.  The Hansa, King Edward IV explained, was a society cooperative or cooperation originating from a joint agreement and alliance of several towns and villages, being legally responsible and liable as joint debtors for the offences of single members. 

This, the Hansa rejected.  The Lübeck Sydic stressed that it was neither a society nor a cooperation, that owned no joint property, no common cash box, no executive officials of its own.  It was merely a tight alliance of many towns and municipalities to pursue their respective own commercial interests securely and profitably.  The Hansa was not ruled by merchants, every town having its own ruler.  It also had no seal of its own, as sealing was done by the respective issuing town.  The Hansa had no common council, discussions rather being held by representatives of each town.  There even was no obligation to take part in the Hansa meetings, and there were no means of coercion to carry through their decisions.  So according to the Lübeck Sydic, the Hansa could not be defined by Roman law, and was not liable as a body.

This statement was in fact correct, and at the same time, deliberately covering up that the Hansa was frequently urged to give a self-definition as well as the exact number of its members.  The term Hansa itself does not lead us anywhere, as it meant merely a group or community as well as the common law. 

In London, for instance, in 1266, the Hamburg merchants were allowed by King Henry II to form a Hansa of their own, just like the Lübeck ones in 1267 following the example of the Cologne merchants.  Before, in 1282, the German merchants in London were mentioned as Hansa Almaniere for the first time.   On the other hand, historical sources, more or less casually, offer numerous terms to characterise the Hansa, like the lions, assembly, association, brotherhood, confederation, society and so on, often in combination, but they do not explain the subject, only indicating some kind of connection. 

As nowadays it is mostly assumed, the Hansa was a community of lower German towns, whose merchants participated in the Hanseatic privileges abroad, such as having their own stalls and trading posts, and their own administration and law, freedom of customs and freedom of trade in the country.  Where politically convenient, it stressed the solidarity of its merchants, and at the Lübeck meeting in 1418 following a couple of local uprising and external threats, there were repeated efforts to obtain a firm federal constitution, and its membership required unrestricted political power of the City Council. 

On the other hand, the Hansa was lacking the essential legal element of a federation.  There was no pact of alliance, no statutes, no obligation for certain economic and political aims, no chairmen with representative authority, and no permanent official until Dr Südermann became Hansiatic Sydic in 1556.  No document designated Lübeck as head of the Hansa, although it was nearly all the time.  There were no means to punish disobedient members, apart from exclusion, whereas externally, locate, embargo and even war were measures taken.  So in some way, the Hansa resembled a federation, but it was more a legal community as to its privileges abroad.  Even such conferational concept is not beyond doubt as institutional strength was missing and clashes of interest within were evident, partly irreconcilable. 

So, more recent views are quite cautious. A von Brandt, Lübeck historian, spoke of a community of interest existing and being in individual cases able to act at a time only insofar as the interests of the individual towns or citizens really coincided.  Its only aim was to obtain privileges abroad and to secure their undisturbed use by its members.

Klaus Friedland called it a trade alliance for eventual case of emergency.  Obviously, the Hansa cannot be described in terms of national law.

As I already said, it is difficult as well to find out its members, at least nearly impossible to have a complete list at a certain time.  The Hansa left this deliberately unclear and avoided giving precise details about which towns belonged to it, that is which merchants were admitted to its privileges.  In fact, exact information would have been hard to give, as final decisions on membership were made by the foreign trading post that sometimes ignored the decisions of the Hansa Assembly.  The membership was in a permanent change.  From the 15th Century on, there exist numerous lists of members for different purposes, out of which a core of about sixty towns between the rivers Isar and Narva emerges, but those lists are neither complete nor reliable and partly contradictory.  Literature offers between seventy and about 200 members.  Depending on the intensity and durations of participation in Hanseatic activities, one can also distinguish different degrees of attachment.  Since the 15thCentury, often 72 member towns are mentioned. 

Besides that, there were a number of smaller and economically weaker towns unable to send representatives to the Hanseatic meetings on their own.  They were represented by bigger neighbour towns.  So there was a smaller circle of Hanseatic towns that took part in trade, were invited to the meetings and influenced their decisions, and a wider circle whose merchants also benefited from the Hanseatic privileges.  Attending the meetings was no exclusive right, but rather a tiresome and expensive duty one liked to evade.

To become a member, first, the town's merchants had to take part in Hanseatic trade.  From the middle of the 14th Century, the Hanseatic meetings had to decide on applications for admission.  Their decision depended on whether approval would be advantageous to the Hansa or not.  So in 1441, Kampen was admitted again but was refused by another town in 1451.  Smaller towns could be admitted informally by one of the bigger ones.  A special case was Nuess in 1457 being raised to the rank of a Hanseatic town by an imperial privilege.  In fact, future members had to be German, in the broader sense of course.  In 1379, an English application for membership was refused explicitly because the applicants were strangers, not Germans.

Elimination occurred by not using Hanseatic privileges, by voluntary withdrawal, or formal exclusion, the so-called 'verhansung', in case of serious violations of Hanseatic principles or interests, and whether a member was admitted or excluded, this did not concern a confederation of towns but privileges or German law.  In most cases, it is hard to find out and sometimes a contentious issue when admission took place. 

Above all, it is unknown when the Hansa began to exist.  There was no founding date or act.  Its age was a question for contemporaries as well.  A law student in 1418, in Cologne, searched for a founding charter in vain.  We know about important pre-conditions - the German medieval colonisation of Eastern Europe, the opening of the Baltic area, the founding of Lübeck in 1133 to 1159, and the forming of a commercial cooperative in Gotland, but none of these were the foundation of a community of merchants and towns.  The mentioned Hansa Almaniere from 1282 in London concerned merely the London Guildhall.  A communal spirit beyond such single trading posts became apparent only decades later when, in 1343, the Norwegian king granted freedom of trade and from customs to the Wendish towns and to all merchants the of the German Hansa.  Soon afterwards, members of the Hansa appeared in various places, self-confidently standing up against hindrances for their trade.  Hansa now meant the north German merchants in the North Sea and the Baltic as a whole.

Yet signs of a common Hanseatic awareness appeared already one century earlier, when in 1252/53, delegates from Hamburg and Lübeck, in the name of all German merchants trading in Flanders, negotiated with Countess Margarita, even though the different regional groups got separate copies of their privileges.  Obviously, all persons affected saw their interests looked after by these negotiators. 

On the other hand, mainly in London, distrust and frictions arose between Cologne having been privileges here since the middle of the 12th Century and the so-called 'die Osterlinge', from Hamburg and Lübeck, who appeared some decades later.  Reconciliation only took place just before the already mentioned Hansa Almaniere was founded in 1282.  Then the Guildhall became their common trading post.  Since the 15th Century it was called Steelyard, located at the place of today's Cannon Street Station.  This Guildhall community was an important nucleus of the later Hansa. 

Yet another one was the early connection between Hamburg and Lübeck that in the 13th Century gained the leading role in the Baltic trade, thus preparing the leadership in the Hansa itself.  This was reflected by the statutes of the big trading posts abroad.  So for instance, in 1293, the St Peter's Court in Novgorod asked Lübeck to be its court of appeal.  Generally, these trading posts were regulated more strictly than the Hansa as a whole.  Here, the statutes of the Bruges office from 1347 are of special interest, as they divided its merchants into three rather independent groups related to their origin. 

This indicated considerable differences of interest and anticipated in some way the organisational division of the Hansa into thirds in the 15thCentury.  First, the Wendish and the Saxonian towns, headed by Lübeck; second the Westphalian and the Prussian towns, led by Dortmund, later Cologne; and third, the Gotland and Livonian towns, led by either Visby or Riga, each third having its own meetings.  This division was somewhat differing from the ones the big trading posts in London, Bruges, Bergen and Novgorod adopted.

Then in 1554, the Hansa was even divided into quarters.  This showed the increasing divergences within the Hansa. 

Delegates of the Hanseatic towns first met in Lübeck in 1358.  At the same time, this may be regarded as the beginning of the European importance of the Hansa.  The assembly had to discuss violations of rights and privileges in Flanders and impose an embargo on that county.  This was completely successful.  Privileges were restored, legal security was achieved and extended to the whole country, and compensation was paid.  For the Hansa, this not only meant an increasing prestige; it showed the considerable independence of the northern part of the Holy Roman Empire as well, and even the imperial city of Lübeck kept some distance to the right. 

It encouraged the Hanseatic towns particularly with regard to the Danish king, Valdemar IV.  He had come to power only with Lübeck's support, but later expanded his powers in the Baltic to the detriment of the Hanseatic trade and conquered the island of Gotland by destroying the Hanseatic Visby.  The Wendish and Pomeranian towns broke off their trade with Denmark and resolved to react militarily.  Although they tried to ally with some European princes, the main burden was to be borne by the Wendish towns - Lübeck, Rostock, Wismar, Stralsund, Hamburg and Luneburg.  Under Lübeck's command but lacking further support, they failed in besieging Helsingborg in 1362 and had to agree an unfavourable armistice.  The Lübeck mayor, Wittenborg, was made responsible for that and beheaded.  Though continuing the war with privateers, the Hansa could not avert a disadvantageous peace in 1365.  This brought no end to King Valdemar's hostile trade policy that now also provoked resistance among Prussian and Dutch towns. 

From their alliance, joined by most Wendish towns, in 1367, there originated the Cologne Confederation containing 75 towns and the Netherlands.  For nearly two decades, this was a firm federation of the most important Hanseatic towns, though not including Hamburg and Bremen.  It was financed by a special customs duty and entered alliances with Mecklenburg, Sweden, and the counts of Holstein.  Its members made extreme efforts, raising a fleet and army even bigger than their contractual commitments.  For the Hansa, the new war on land and sea, beginning in 1368, became the most splendid success it ever had, made manifest in the well known peace of Stralsund in 1370.  Former Hanseatic trade privileges were renewed, being valid no longer for separate towns but for the confederation as a whole.  For fifteen years, compensation was to be paid to the towns which held as a pledge Malmö, Helsingborg and other castles and fortresses on the Sound. 

The Hansa was even entitled to have a say in the next Danish king's election.  By leaving the last unused at the death of Valdemar in 1375, the Hansa, at least its majority, showed its main goals to be economic.  Its towns now gained supremacy in the Baltic trade.  They controlled the Sound and temporarily drove out the Dutch and the English from the Baltic, while particularly the Prussian towns demanded the further occupation of the Sound fortresses and the continuation of the Cologne Confederation.  By urging of the Wendish towns and the Dutch, those were returned in 1385 and the confederation not prolonged.  Obviously, the majority of the towns did not want a formal confederation with its duties and burdens, but rather a community of interests without power politics.  This corresponded to the diversity of members and interests as well as of good and trading areas, from the Baltic and Russia to the Iberian Peninsula.

Furthermore, it showed the contrast between the Prussian towns and Lübeck, that tried again and again to prevent their direct trade via the Sound to Flanders and England, stressing its claim that all ships have to land in Lübeck to offer their goods there.

The Prussian towns found support in the Teutonic Order of Knights being a member of the Hansa as well.  It is the only non-urban member of the Hansa.  But this order faced increasing pressure from the rise of the Polish Lithuanian Rahn, and Prussian trade to the West met more and more difficulties since the Danish Queen, Margarita I, ascended to the Swedish throne in 1389.  Headed by Danzig, the Hanseatic towns imposed an embargo on Denmark and Stockholm, with little effect.  In 1397, Margarita proclaimed the union of the three Scandinavian kingdoms in the Kalmar union. 

It was a rival for the Swedish throne, Duke Albrecht of Mecklenburg, who from Wismar and Rostock employed pirates, the notorious 'Italian Bruder', in order to hurt the Baltic shipping.  Together with Prussian towns, the Teutonic Order defeated those pirates on Gotland, driving them out of the Baltic Sea.  Their scattered survivors still heavily menaced merchant shipping.  Finally, they were overcome by Hamburg sailors in the North Sea.  This caused Denmark to renew Hanseatic privileges in the realms of the Kalmar union.  The Teutonic Order, however, already had passed the peak of its political power.  Its defeat by the Polish in 1410 shook its position in the Hansa permanently.

For many historians, the Hansa in the early 15th Century had reached its heyday, the peak of its economic and political development.  Nevertheless, increasing threats emerged.  The North European countries were on their way to become national states, trying to raise and protect a competitive trade of their own.  The North German territorial states exerted growing pressure on the Hanseatic towns, causing some of them to lose their independence already in the 15th Century.  As I said, this led to the futile attempt to get a closer alliance in 1418, and privateers as well as piracy stayed to be a permanent problem.

The following clashes with Denmark, 1426 to 1435, already proved Lübeck and the Hansa unable to preserve the influence over the Scandinavian countries they had achieved in 1370.  On the other hand, disagreement and lagging solidarity within the Hansa obviously, in most cases, let only the most affected towns to be active.  Here and more often the Wendish towns proved as the Hanseatic nucleus, primarily interested in the Baltic trade, to Scandinavian privileges, and frequently acting politically or militarily for the entire Hansa.

All efforts to resist the growing princely pressure unanimously failed until in 1442, Berlin -Köln, the Cologne part of today's Berlin, lost its independence by a surprise coup of elector, Frederick II.  A meeting of North German princes in the following year indicated the menace of joint princely actions against cities.  This finally gave the impetus to set up the first Hanseatic Tohopersate - it is a Lower German term which means sticking together.  This happened in '43.  This was a three-year defensive alliance against internal and external threats and highway robbery, which in fact was practised or at least tolerated by some princes as well.  38 towns took part, passing their test successfully already in the next year in the feud between the town Kolberg at the Baltic and the Duke of Pomerania.  Therefore, in 1447, this alliance was prolonged.  Its membership expanded, and in 1451, it was renewed again as princely threats persisted.  Beyond preserving the freedom of some towns, it was about the fundamental problem to keep the towns' council rule unchallenged inside and outside, this being the precondition of Hanseatic membership.  Only few cities were imperial cities such as Lübeck, Cologne, Goslar and so on, so remaining lay in territories that were practically independent because of their political and economic strength.  By obtaining important sovereign rights, they had achieved far reaching emancipation from territorial rule.  Depriving the councils of power was a reason for exclusion, as was explicitly stated in 1418.  With that, the Hansa was an association for the defence of the councils' oligarchies too in order to maintain the leading, sometimes patricians, families of merchants or guild masters in power.  This could be threatened by civic uprisings as well as by princely attacks. 

There were also clashes of interest between coastal and inland towns, as coastal towns, instead of the initial idea of common trade on land and sea, tended to take over the more profitable trade on the Northern Baltic Sea, putting down the inland towns to mere suppliers.  Especially Hamburg and Lübeck by this contributed to the dissolution of the Hanseatic community.

In addition, internal conflicts increased because of demands of political participation and social contrasts.

Due to internal clashes of interest, the growing threat of princely power caused no strengthening of the collective Hanseatic federation impetus.  The Tohopersate alliances for the longer term were of little use and were no remedy for problems in trade policy.  Instead, the more regional leagues of towns were stimulated, particularly in the Wendish quarter where Lübeck was still dominant. 

The external threats intensified, especially due to the serious conflict with England that I mentioned in the beginning.  For the Hansa, it was embarrassing that the Cologne merchants in England left the Hanseatic line as England was the most important trading partner for Cologne.  Its conflict with the Hansa arose already in 1468, when Cologne declined the taxes decided by other Hansa towns and the Netherlands as too high, Cologne having extensive trade relations in that area.  Obviously, its egoism was prevailing.  The conflict with England arose from decades of discussion over the legal position of English merchants in the Hanseatic towns and over the Hanseatic privileges in England repeatedly ending up in acts of violence.  When finally the Steelyard was destroyed, this meant war, in the course of which, in 1471, Cologne was excluded from the Hansa.  Fortunately for the Hansa, England too was weakened by internal fractions.  Even the king was expelled to the Netherlands in 1471 and could regain his throne only by support from the Hansa.  So in spite of several heavy defeats suffered by the Hanseatic fleet, the Hansa achieved a very favourable peace in Utrecht 1474.  In fact, this was the last big success for the Hansa, though mainly resulting from lucky circumstances.  Hanseatic privileges were confirmed, and Hanseatic trade in England once more secured for nearly a century.  Soon after, Cologne was readmitted, but it had to accept severe financial conditions.

This success could not conceal that the Hansa was facing increasing problems.  More inland towns had been subjugated by princes or anxiously fled into neutrality, while repeated attempts to ally in a stronger way failed.  The great Hanseatic trading posts were losing significance.  Compared with Antwerp, Bruges suffered decay, mostly due to the silting of its river.  After increasing troubles, the Novgorod office was finally closed by Ivan III in 1494.  The privileges of the office in Bergen and Norway were hurt even by Lübeck and Hamburg themselves trading directly with Iceland since 1476 and thus showing how self-serving interests were prevailing. 

Lübeck's military efforts against Denmark and the Dutch could not stop the loss of privileges and markets in that area, and the Hansa had no suitable answer to the rise of the big South German trading firms, although they became considerable competitors even in the North. 

It seems impossible to say when the decline of the Hansa really began as its factors had existed for a long time: the rise of the national and territorial states detrimental to their freedom and trade; the growing up of centrifugal forces inside the Hansa; and its permanent loss of members; the further development of trading forums and the increasing competition by England and the Dutch, which caused a shifting of the main trade routes and markets to the West, further reinforced by the discovery of America. 

A new factor was the Reformation.  The spreading of the Lutherian teaching in the early 1520s was common to most Hanseatic towns, but where it linked with political and social questions, this soon could become, or at least be seen, as serious menace to security and established order.  The diverging attitudes of neighbouring princes and the varying resistance of the town councils made the Reformation a rather individual problem for each town.  At the Hansa Assembly in 1525, Lübeck tried in vain to set up a common defence front against Lutheranism.  This advanced partly violently, but in most cases, successful.   In some places, iconoclasm occurred  - in Stralsund, Stettin, Brunswick and Goslar, for instance, not to talk about Munster.  At last nearly all Hanseatic towns followed the Reformation, except Cologne, thus increasing its inner distance.

More detrimental to the Hansa were some of the political consequences of the Reformation.  In the Lübeck Reformation struggles, the merchant Jürgen Wöllenweber ascended even to the mayor's post, overthrowing the old leading class of the town in 1533.  His efforts to regain the powerful position Lübeck once had ended in a disaster, still diminishing the significance not only of his town but of the entire Hansa.  His endeavour to expel Dutch trade from the Baltic matched the Lübeck interest, not that of the Prussian towns.  His privateering warfare against Dutch trading vessels grew into a large war against Denmark and Sweden, the so-called Gräfenfeder, or Founts Feud.  This war went far beyond  Lübeck's forces, as even the Wendish towns kept sceptical distance.  Wöllenweber's search for allies failed.  Finally, Hamburg and Luneburg mediated a peace in 1536, while in Lübeck, the old council's power was restored.  Wöllenweber himself underwent a quite symbolic show trial by the Duke of Brunswick, and was executed.

Some of the Hanseatic towns took part in the Schmalkalt Federation, founded in 1531 to protect Lutheranism, but its defeat by Emperor Charles V in 1547 meant heavy financial losses to them.  The old Protestantism could be maintained in Northern Germany.

In those years, there was even an intensive cooperation of the Wendish towns to defend Lutheranism against Anabaptism and other religious challenges, but doubtless all this was dividing as well, as some towns stayed Catholic some kept away from the Federation, and when later on Bremen shifted to Calvinism, it was for some years excluded but re-admitted again and afterwards prevented common religious statements.

Even more depressing were the international developments.  In the Baltic, once dominated by the Hanseatic trade, Denmark and Sweden gained preponderance, more infusing foreign trade and fighting against all efforts to restore Hanseatic trade to Russia to its former extent.  King Christian IV of Denmark and Norway, he reigned from 1588 to 1648 - extremely long - was a rigorous adversary of liberties, harming Hanseatic trade and politics with all his might.  In 1604, he cancelled the Hansa's exemption from duty in the Sound.  He vexed Lübeck's trade and shipping in the Baltic, compelled Hamburg to deny claims to be subject to the Emperor only in 1603, and in 1616, built up a fortress on the Elbe in order to hurt Hamburg trade.  For decades, he did just this.

In the West, the London Steelyard faced more violent attacks against privileges of position by the English merchants.  The Dutch revolt against Spain and a Dutch conflict with England before led to the expulsion not only of numerous Dutch immigrants but also of a company from Antwerp.  Both of them found favourable conditions to settle in Hamburg, bringing profit to the city but breaking Hanseatic rules that forbade free trade for strangers in Hanseatic towns.  Even merchants from other Hanseatic towns were restricted.  With that, Hamburg showed that economic success was no longer based on old Hanseatic rules.  Protests from other towns had little effect.  Lübeck even appealed to the Kaiser to proceed against the English monopolists and to rise, but the imperial intervention only caused the closing of the London Steelyard.  This happened in 1598.  Although it was returned in 1606, it never regained its former significance. 

The Dutch War of Independence against Spain since 1567 quickly meant the end of Hanseatic positions in that area, though the Antwerp trading posts of the Hansa, transferred here from Bruges before, moved into a new residents-only in 1568, the biggest secular building the Hansa ever erected.  It was to be used only for a few years.  Disturbance, Spanish plundering, and the siege of Antwerp in 1584/85 drove out the last merchants.  So while some cities had profit from the Dutch refugees, the attempt at re-establishing of Hanseatic trade in the Netherlands failed definitely.

Obviously, the development was in more than one respect contradictory, as it shows the weakness and internal contrast of the Hanseatic community, while some of its members, above all Hamburg, were rather prosperous, gaining profits by the Dutch and trading even with Catholic Spain.  In 1607, Lübeck, Danzig and Hamburg achieved a very favourable commercial treaty at the Spanish court.  Because of the advancing infirmity of the Hansa since the middle of the 16th Century, plans and repeated efforts were made to restore its community.  Since support from outside was not available, consolidation was tried as to its own organisation.  Meetings of all Hansa towns as well of its new quarters - Lübeck, Cologne, Brunswick and Danzig were the head of those quarters.  Those meetings were to be held more frequently, though this succeeded only for a short time. 

In 1557, a confederation of 63 towns was raised for ten years and prolonged after, but its statutes had little respect.  Debates about its revision led to a diluted version only in 1604, which was signed by but a handful of towns.

Since 1554, for the first time, annual dues were charged inside of the Hansa, due to the respective prosperity of each town, yet readiness to pay proved to be poor and arrears soon went up.

While therefore all these measures had more or less small effect, a last one seemed to be a real progress.  In 1556, as I already mentioned, Dr Heinrich Südermann from Cologne was appointed the first Hanseatic Syndic, competent for law questions and external negotiations, a distinguished lawyer, though with little possibility for action.  After his death in 1591, the Syndic office stayed vacant for a longer time, mainly due to its costs.  Nevertheless, there was still some common spirit, as shown by the successful intervention of several towns when Brunswick was besieged and attacked by its Duke in 1605/06, and in 1616, they even achieved a defensive treaty with the Netherlands.  This, however, proved to be worthless when war began.

The Thirty Years War seemed to accelerate the decay of the Hansa.  Obviously, the respective towns depended entirely on themselves, only some of them being sufficiently fortified.  Wallenstein, imperial commander-in-chief, occupied Wismar and Rostock.  The remaining towns mostly were in danger too, particularly since Sweden had joined the war in 1630.  Therefore, the Hansa Diet in 1629 authorised Lübeck, Bremen and Hamburg, being the most active and well-to-do members, to act for the entire Hansa, as it was impossible to assemble in any time necessary.  This mandate of trust then concerned Wallentsein's siege of Stralsund but remained unspecified and was never cancelled.  In 1630, these three cities agreed on a defensive alliance, providing help for all member towns in danger.  Lucky enough, this was never tested, and facing the war was clearly unrealistic.

Still, this alliance later was prolonged decade by decade.  Though in the 19th Century this was the link for nostalgic Hanseatic traditionalism, the decision of 1629 was rather an act of resignation, not a reform.  By the end of the war in 1648, several Hanseatic towns were under Swedish rule - Wismar, Rostock, Stralsund, Stettin.  Magdeburg was totally destroyed.  On the other hand, Hamburg and Danzig had grown, Hamburg mainly profiting from its recent fortification and its bank founded in 1619 that made it a secure market, a place for diplomatic negotiations, and financial transactions, when the Swedish war was [sponsored] by France, and Hamburg was a shelter for refugees.

Lübeck, Bremen and Hamburg attended the Westphalia peace conference, referring to their commission from 1629, and by skilful diplomacy, they achieved a remarkable success.  In order to re-establish Hanseatic trade and privileges, which suffered many losses during the war, it was their aim to explicitly include the Hansa in the peace treaty.  This was at first denied by the German princes and the Kaiser, but in 1645, the Hanseatic negotiators managed to be included in the Swedish/Danish peace at Brömsebro.  In 1646, they renewed the defence treaty with the Netherlands, thus paving the way to be included too in the Dutch/Spanish peace treaty in early 1648, restoring the Spanish commercial treaty at the same time.  So finally the Hansa was included too in the famous Westphalia peace treaty in late 1638.  In fact, this was the very first time the Hanseatic League was mentioned in an official document of the Holy Roman Empire.  The paradox could not be greater.  At this constitutional recognition of the Hansa met by no means its actual condition.  To stablise it once more, forces were lacking as well as, in many cases, political freedom.  There was no help when Macklenburg was conquered in 1666, no means to rebuild the Steelyard burnt down in the same year. 

Lacking attendance delayed the next Hansa meeting until 1669, Thirty years after the previous one.  Merely six towns were represented, having long discussions without a single decision, so this remained the last Hansa Diet, the end of a four centuries' history. Only Lübeck, Bremen and Hamburg kept in contact, executing the Hanseatic estate and maintaining Hanseatic traditions.


                                                                        ©Professor Rainer Postel, Gresham College, 14 June 2007









Dr Paul Richards


The principal English seaports for Hanseatic merchants outside London were those east coast towns whose role in the national economy developed significantly in the 12th and 13th centuries. Lynn, Boston, Ipswich, Colchester, Yarmouth, Hull, York, Ravenser, Beverley and Newcastle all deserve attention, but the first two will receive most in this synopsis.  Lynn and Boston had the oldest and strongest Hanseatic connections.  Here there are unspecific references to 'Easterlings' in the 12th century and links between these Wash ports and German traders strengthened in the 13th century.  German merchants at times had royal protection for journeys to English fairs as at Lynn in 1242 for example.

As well as bringing fish and forest products to sell in the English market, north German merchants were attracted by the international fairs of the eastern counties, along with Italian, Spanish and Flemish men.  Boston, Lynn, Stamford, Northampton and St Ives were the places to buy the highly valued English wool in particular.  At St Ives in 1270 were several Esterlings including Gottschalk, alderman of the Germans in Lynn, where he had become a burgess.  Yet in 1271 Simon Stavoren is likewise a burgess and Alderman of the Roman Empire at Lynn acting on behalf of Lübeckers trading in England.  The Wash ports were in fact gateways into England for many European merchants because of their position at the head of river systems giving access to the towns and fairs of the interior.  A Lübeck man was a member of the Trinity Guild at Lynn before 1300 and other Germans were burgesses here.

The commercial dealings of the English east coast ports with traders from the North German towns, Lübeck, Hamburg, Bremen, Stralsund, Wismar, Rostock and Danzig above all, were slowly but surely superseded by London.  According to Lloyd, the London Kontor overtook that of Boston in economic importance at the end of the 14th century, the Lincolnshire port having been the principal provincial harbour for the North Germans.  By 1450 Hanseatic trade through the capital was probably larger than all England's provincial ports together (Sandwich and Dover were more or less outports of London).  Nevertheless, the east coast ports continued to host small German communities whose members exported cloth throughout the 15th century, England's great export commodity which had surpassed wool by 1400.  It should also be noted that the German delegation at the peace talks at Utrecht in 1473, convened to end several years of Anglo-Hanseatic sea warfare, wanted to repossesses not only their London Kontor but also the old one at Boston and to establish a new one at Lynn.

Hanseatic communities in Europe are frequently identified by the term Kontor (plural Kontore) but the English ones are often referred to as steelyards (London so named from 1384).  The derivation of the word 'steelyard' is debated but a Kontor or steelyard was simply a trading post or commercial/business headquarters.  For consistency this synopsis will use Kontor.  Outside London there were Hanseatic Kontore in Lynn, Boston, Hull, Ipswich and Yarmouth; in Colchester and Newcastle the German traders seem to have rented houses.  These provincial Kontore were to a great extent subject to London whose representatives at the Lübeck Hansetag in 1476 insisted that this dependency should continue in accordance with custom.  An annual tax or Schossgeld was paid by them to London.

In the course of the 13th century German towns of the North Sea and Baltic coasts formed alliances against pirates and local territorial princes for mutual protection and strength, leading to that confederation of towns known in England as the Hanseatic League.  It made its formal entry onto the international stage with the first Congress or Hansetag at Lübeck in 1356.  Groups or hanse of German traders from any number of towns travelling abroad had initiated the process which led to an urban confederation which was to negotiate with European Kingdoms and be granted commercial privileges.  Such privileges acquired by Cologne merchants in London in 1157 were extended to Hamburg and Lübeck men in 1266/67 when the word 'hanse' is applied to the North Germans for the first time.

The first reference to an untied German Hanse in England is in 1281.  Lloyd has shown how these Hanseatic merchants won economic privileges in England via a series of royal charters granted in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. Other aliens enjoyed similar reductions or freedoms from English customs but the geopolitical strength of the Hanseatic League allowed it to retain such advantages.  Its membership encompassed at least 80 North European towns at any one time; It supplied western Europe with essential supplies of timber, pitch, wax, fish, corn, iron and grain during bad harvests; it accounted for over half of English cloth exports by 1400.  English Kings dealt with the London Kontor before 1356, when the first Hansetag met at Lübeck, after which German merchants in England referred complaints to Lübeck first.  The first embassy of the Hanseatic League sent to England was in 1375.

A new age in Anglo-Hanseatic relations opened in the late 14th century when English merchants began to sail into the Baltic with cargoes of cloth.   Wax, pitch, timber, canvas and cereals were the commodities sought by the Westerners.  Danzig in Prussia was the commercial hub of the East Baltic and foremost supplier of forest products and foodstuffs to Western Europe.  Here the English settled as a little colony not unlike German communities in English seaports.  Inevitably, they wanted similar economic privileges that Hanseatic traders enjoyed in London and English east coast towns like Boston.  Not surprisingly, the Danzigers were reluctant to concede such commercial preference, thus Anglo-Hanseatic relations deteriorated.  Merchants from Hull, York, Beverley, Boston and Lynn clashed with German traders for predominance in the hinterland of Danzig over the supply and retail of English cloth.  Embassies were sometimes despatched by English Kings to Prussia where their counterpart was the Master of the Teutonic Knights (Deutsche Orden) at Marienburg who ruled Danzig until 1454.  One sailed from Lynn in June 1388 to negotiate a settlement of trade disputes: a Prussian embassy came to England in 1389 for similar reasons.  Anglo-Prussian treaties in 1388 and 1437 were unfortunately too imprecise or vague to make satisfactory progression on the issue of reciprocity or equalisation of commercial privileges.

Trade disputes between English merchants and Prussian authorities from the 1380s damaged Anglo-Hanseatic relations thus fostering further confrontation.  Hopes of a settlement through diplomacy were dashed in 1449 when English freebooters captured a big fleet of about 120 ships (nearly 50% were Hanseatic) carrying salt from the Bay of Bourgneuf to the North.  This gross act of piracy was seemingly with the connivance of the English government.  The ships were taken to the Isle of Wight and the Hanseatic vessels asset stripped.  There was another English attack on the Hanseatic salt fleet in July 1458 when 18 Lübeck ships were amongst the prizes.  Though Lübeck prepared for retaliatory action against England, the support of the Prussian towns was lukewarm, no doubt because they did not wish for war or cessation of trade.  But worse was to follow when a relatively minor incident in 1468 led to a sea war between England and the Hanseatic League.  The Danes seized a small English fleet in the sound as it headed into the Baltic.  The Danish King blamed the English, and merchants from Lynn in particular, for illegal intrusion into Iceland and the murder of his governor there.  No Hanseatic conspiracy seems probable, though Danzig privateers were in the service of the Danes.  Political circumstances in London made it convenient for the English government to blame the Hanseatic League for international piracy which led to a sea war 1468 - 1473.  Peace was secured when Anglo-Hanseatic delegations met at Utrecht in 1473/4.  The episodes or events or 1449, 1458 and 1468 obviously disrupted Anglo-Hanseatic trade.  England's east coast ports were badly affected because such a large proportion of foreign trade was in the hands of the Germans.  Boston's economy was severely undermined because the Lübeckers, who had been central to the import/export trade of the port, decided to more or less retreat from England.

In 1294 there was a general arrest of alien shipping in England and there were more Hanseatic vessels in Yorkshire ports than elsewhere in England.  Wool was exported by German traders from Hull but cloth had surpassed wool by 1400.  It was manufactured in York, Beverly, Halifax and other regional centres.  Salt was exported from Hull, Boston and Lynn to the Skania (Southern Sweden) herring fishery in the Baltic.  Yorkshire men were themselves shipping cloth to the Baltic by the 1380s and were the largest group amongst the English whose goods were seized in Prussia in 1385.  Hull was, however, less dependent on Hanseatic commerce than Boston or Lynn.  From the 1390s, and for several decades, the Germans nevertheless imported significant amounts of timber, canvas, furs, iron, flax and pitch into England via the Humber.  Sometimes up to a dozen Danzig ships arrived from the Baltic each summer.  Ravenser had been an early destination for Hanseatic vessels carrying fish, but it fades from the picture by the 1320s.  Beverley likewise hosted German ships but was too near the much larger Hull to grow in importance.  York merchants were usually based in Hull.

Medieval Newcastle sent coal, lead and salt south to London and the East Anglian ports in return for fish and grain.  Foreign trade was probably less significant than the coastal trade for Tyneside merchants.  Yet Danzig ships came to Newcastle in the 15th century with bulk cargoes like fish and timber in exchange for coal, lead, wool and a little cloth.  Newcastle vessels sometimes sailed to the Baltic; by the 1530s they were taking coal in ballast as well as salt.  The overseas trade of Newcastle was modest compared to that of Hull though, similarly, the North Germans accounted for a large slice of it.

Cloth manufactured in East Anglian villages was exported through Ipswich and Colchester in the 15th and 16th centuries by native merchants and Germans.  Hanseatic traders from London established a Kontor in Ipswich and rented houses in Colchester.  They sent cloth to the Low Counties and the Baltic mainly out of Colchester (Ipswich was in the same customs jurisdiction).  It was probably brought from London rather than purchased locally.  The Germans seems to have abandoned their premises in the two towns by the 1490s, only exporting the occasional cargo from these ports thereafter.  Bulk imports from the Baltic continued to be landed in Ipswich and Colchester, however, including wax, timber, iron, fish and bowstaves, with Hamburg men prominent.  Some shipments were clearly destined for London.  Cologne merchants from the capital had been the most frequent visitors or residents of Colchester and Ipswich in the 15th century; German ships had delivered cargoes of wine and salt for them in the 1460s for example.  This demonstrates that Hanseatic trade through Ipswich and Colchester had been mostly an extension of the activities of the London Kontor, though the Germans did not dominate the overseas trade of the two ports.

Yarmouth (Blakeney and Dunwich were in its customs districts) was a destination for Hanseatic ships, particularly from Hamburg, with timber, flax, pitch, iron and fish imported in the 15th century.  As the Norfolk town was the hub of the English herring fishery, the import of fish by German merchants represented serious competition!  Yarmouth was also the outpost of the cloth manufacturing city of Norwich whose merchants exported cloth to Europe from the 15th to 18th centuries.  Some cloth was taken out by Hanseatic traders.  Their Kontor at Hanseatic traders.  Their Kontor at Yarmouth must have been a modest affair, managed by Hamburg men, but they withdrew from the town in the early 15th century, seriously damaging its overseas commerce.  These German merchants declined an invitation to return in 1416.  Hanseatic interest in Yarmouth had waned by the 1480s and 1490s when only a few Danzig and Hamburg ships visited the port.  Some brought Bay salt to this Norfolk harbour for sale to both English and German merchants.  Hans Schomaker imported a cargo of wainscots and pitch at Yarmouth in October 1451, returned there with salt the following spring, and left again carrying cloth for example.

Medieval Boston had no powers of self-government so lacks a borough archive for the period which disadvantages historians.  The Lincolnshire port was the home of a major international fair in the 13th century and still amongst the top ten most populous English towns in the late 14thcentury.  Boston exported more wool than any other English port before 1300, though this flow had dwindled by the 15th century, cloth having largely replaced wool in England's foreign trade.  However, the significance of the Wash port in the later Middle Ages should not be underestimated as a recent publication confirms (S. Rigby ed.  The Overseas Trade of Boston in the Reign of Richard II).  No less that 22 local men joined a consortium to export 5781 sacks of wool from Boston in 1377 - 8.   In 1383 - 4 Bostonians were also importing dyes and alum from the Low Countries to supply the regional cloth industry.

Boston's special connection with the Hanseatic League was via the Bergenfahrer form Lübeck and other West Baltic towns like Rostock.  These Hanseatic traders controlled the huge fish trade at Bergen where a Kontor had been established by the 1360s after trade agreements made with Norwegian Kings.  These Bergenfahrer turned Boston into their English distribution centre for fish.  Other commodities imported into the Lincolnshire harbour were timber, iron, grain and pitch from Baltic, largely by Danzig men in the late 14th century.  Cloth and salt were exported from Boston by the Bergenfahrer to Bergen and the Low Counties at first, then by the Danzigers to the Baltic (increasing quantities of cloth were leaving Boston for Danzig in the late 14th century).

About 1400 Hanseatic imports from Bergen still amounted to at least 70% of all alien imports into Boston.  The Germans were likewise dominant in the export trade of the Wash port.  The Bergenfahrer, and L'beckers in particular, became much less involved in Boston as a result of the trade disruption caused by the Anglo-Hanseatic hostilities in the mid-15thcentury.

By 1500 the Lübeckers had deserted Boston and its harbour was becoming far less attractive for the Hanseatic League.  The final surge of Hanseatic trade at Boston was in 1491/92 after which activity was minimal; London now dominated the wool and cloth trades to the detriment of Boston and other provincial ports.  Yet the official records do not tell all; clearly, some German merchants were still living in Boston about 1500.  In 1487 Lübeck men were disposing of the property of a certain Hans Brinck, a Bergenfahrer recently deceased there.  His business activity embraced leather and cloth but his name is absent from surviving English customs records.  In the 14th century and later Lübeck merchants in Bergen often had managers or agents in Boston but others were resident.  Though the majority of German merchants living and working in Boston were from Lübeck and other Baltic seaports, there is a fine limestone memorial in St Botolphs to a merchant from Münster called Wissel Smalenburg who died in the town in 1314.  Such men enrolled in local guilds and were benefactors of Boston's friaries, the Greyfriars above all.  It should be noted that Smalenburg was so well assimilated in England that his mortal remains were not taken back to his home country but a high status monument was ordered from Belgium and transported to Boston.  Wissel wanted to be buried in the Lincolnshire town at the Greyfriars like many of his Hanseatic companions.

What of the Hanseatic Kontor at Boston?  Leland indicates that there was a significant number of Germans living in Boston where they apparently founded the Greyfriars and 'many Esterlinges' were buried there.  They kept 'a great house and course of merchandise' at Boston until a local man killed one of them in the reign of Edward IV resulting in the departure of the Germans 'and syns the towne sore decayed'.  When Leland wrote about 1530 the Kontor 'remayned' but was unoccupied.  It has already been seen that the gradual withdrawal of the Lubeckers from Boston was a key factor in its decline as a Hanseatic destination.  At the same time the Germans insisted on the return of their Boston Kontor in the Treaty of Utrecht (1474) which concluded the sea war between England and the Hanseatic League.  The Bergenfarer authorised their secretary, Christian de Ghere, to assist in the negotiations for taking repossession of it, a process completed by 27 April 1475.  The Kontor was an old house or complex with 10 rooms and seven chimneys and associated rear buildings in which there were 11 booths.  It was described as 'dilapidated' and needed a good deal of repair to secure it against the winter of 1475/76.  It could not have been used for several years and had probably been vandalised.  In 1481 both the buildings and the wharf were again in such a state of disrepair that the Hansetag granted the Bergenfahrer at Boston £20 to cover necessary work.  In 1505 the London Kontor once more paid for repairs to the Kontor and requested Lübeck to encourage the Bergenfahrer to return (obviously they did not stay long after 1475).  The Kontor at Boston was located just to the south of the town centre on a bend of the river Witham.

By the early 13th century Lynn had become a significant English market town and seaport, having grown rapidly since 1101 when Bishop Losinga of Norwich recognised it as a settlement on his Gaywood estate.  He had endowed the Benedictine monks of Norwich Cathedral with the lordship. Their Priory Church of St Margaret was, nevertheless, only to be built and rebuilt through the wealth of Lynn's mercantile community, though the Norwich bishops were determined to retain their grip on the town.  They had founded a second town and market in the 1140s on the Newland to the north of the first and assumed the lordship of both centres - of Bishop's Lynn  - in 1205.  When Lynn received its first royal charter of borough freedom in 1204, giving its merchants a degree of self-government, it was already the third or fourth port of the Kingdom.

Lynn's prominence in the Middle Ages depended on its extensive hinterland embraced by the River Great Ouse and its tributaries including several counties at the heart of the nation (the great river had been diverted from Wisbech to Lynn about 1265).  This privileged geographical position was reinforced by its location on English's east coast facing Europe across the North Sea, with London and Scotland within easy reach by ship too.  It is therefore no surprise that German merchants from the East are visiting Lynn in the course of the 13th century, following traders from Gotland.   Professor Friedland has also referred to Lynn and Boston as destinations for Hanseatic merchants trying to establish themselves in the West.  The Norfolk town accepted them as 'the fraternity of the German Hanse' (fratres de hansa alemanies in Anglia existentes, Lynn 1302).  In 1271 Lübeck merchants were already acting in Lynn as a group or hanse and some individuals were enrolled as members of the Trinity Guild, the commercial and civic hub of the town's elite, rebuilt in 1422 and still standing on the Saturday Market Place.  Probably about 1271 German merchants from Hamburg and the Baltic secured trading privileges at Lynn and these were confirmed, after some local disputes, in 1310.  The right to maintain their own houses was a critical concession other alien merchants had to lodge with native burgesses).

Herring, grain, timber, wax, iron and pitch were imported into England via Lynn in Hanseatic ships which sometimes carried grain from the Wash to Flanders.  Wool, skins, cloth and lead were commodities taken back to Danzig and other German harbours.  Lynn merchants sent cargoes to Prussia in Danzig ships and to Bergen in Lübeck vessels but none appear to have been resident in Norway or Hanseatic cities until the 1380s.  Lynn was soon more heavily dependent on the Prussia trade through Danzig than any other English port.  Lists of English losses in trade with Prussia in the late 14th century demonstrate that Lynn then accounted for about one third of all English damages.

A number of Lynn merchants and their associates seem settled in several Baltic seaports by the early 15th century, particularly in Wismar, Stralsund and Danzig.  That Lynn treated independently with the Hanseatic cities in the resolution of disputes or grievances testifies to a not inconsiderable presence.  Details of this commercial and diplomatic interaction can be found in the memorandum book belonging to William Asshebourne, Lynn's town clerk.  In 1408 he received a letter from Lynn men in Danzig setting out their ordinances recently drawn up for 'their company' there.  The son of Margery Kempe married a Prussian woman and both travelled to Lynn in 1431, leaving their child in Danzig.  Unfortunately, Margery's son died in Lynn and she escorted her daughter-in-law back to Danzig.  There appears also to have been an exchange or transfer of sailors and artisans between Wash and Baltic seaports.  A sizeable group of German shoemakers were living in Lynn by the 1420s.

It has already been seen how the Hanseatic towns untied against England after a major international incident off Denmark in 1468 in which Lynn ships were involved and Lynn men accused by the Danish King of heinous crime in Iceland.  Peace was negotiated at Utrecht in 1473/4 following several years of sea warfare and the German delegation achieved most of its aims.  It insisted on a free gift of their former Kontore at London and Boston and of a new one at Lynn.  The Treaty of Utrecht was signed in 1474 and Herman Wanmate and Arnd Brekerfeld were then appointed by Lübeck to take possession of the three Kontors and organise the moving in.

At the peace negotiations at Utrecht during 1473 the Germans accused men of London and Lynn and Boston of being the main culprits in the outbreak of hostilities in 1468.  Hence they argued that these towns should cede properties or commercial premises as compensation for all past damages as an act of Anglo-German reconciliation.  Edward IV was prepared to accept these terms to end war at sea; in addition £10,000 was to be paid.  He granted the titles of the existing Kontore in London and Boston and to a new house at Lynn to the Germans in the Treaty of Utrecht (February 1474).  In April 1474 Danzig was asked to send representatives to take possession of the Lynn Kontor by the Hansetag meeting in Lübeck thus confirming the trading connection between the two towns (Danzig did not ratify the Treaty of Utrecht until 1476).  Why had there not been a Kontor in Lynn before this late date?  Lloyd says that the explanation may lie in the fact that its merchants were keen to exploit the Anglo-Baltic trade on their own account and did not welcome foreigners.  They were also in the vanguard of English opposition to German control of the Bergen fish trade.

A privy seal letter from Edward IV about the peace terms contained in the Treaty of Utrecht was read before Lynn Council at the Town Hall on 3 November 1473.  It empowered a local commission to work with the King and his Council.  William Wales (the Mayor), Walter Coney, Thomas Leighton and Thomas Thoresby were its members.  It is clear that this group identified the site now occupied by St Margaret's House for the proposed Hanseatic Kontor.  Thoresby lived next door (now the vicarage garden) and had been involved in trade with Prussia like his colleagues who wanted to restart commercial dealings with Danzig.

It should be appreciated that the German diplomats did not get exactly what they wanted in Lynn.  Their preference was for a riverside property on King Street or 'Le Chequer' which had become the most advantageous location for local merchants whose warehouses ran down long plots to the Ouse.  Here was deeper water than elsewhere in the town.  Even the King could not purchase a house for the Germans ion King Street!

The Lynn premises opposite St Margaret's Church were sold by local merchants to Edward IV who passed the title deeds to the London Kontor on 29 April 1475 where they remained for 125 years before going to Lübeck.  It is almost certain that the Germans redeveloped the site, but no references to building work exist.  Fudge notes that 'the original buildings' at Lynn were described as 'very old' in 1476 and consisted of seven houses with 10 rooms and eight chimneys.  A kitchen, hall and courtyard were also listed.  From this account it is clear that redevelopment must have taken place, though no doubt in stages, and pre 1476 elements survived.  The three storey brick warehouse on the north side of the courtyard was indeed largely rebuilt in the 16th century, but one of its doors is much older.  The warehouse of two storeys on the south side is of timber and brick and constructed about 1500.  The shorter western range overlooking the Ouse has a small hall which may have been the dining room of the Germans and also erected post 1476.

Whenever the architectural character of the Lynn Kontor by 1500, it functioned simultaneously as a counting house, living quarters, warehouse and distribution centre for the town and its hinterland. Fish, pitch, tar, iron, furs, wax, flax, hemp and timber products arrived in Kogge from Hamburg and Danzig in exchange for wool, cloth, hides, lead, beer and (sometimes) cheese.  After the Treaty of Utrecht the Port of Lynn emerged as the key crossroads of both the import and export trade of the Hanseatic League in East Anglia with Prussia the crucial connection.  The Mayor and Common Council of the town soon entered into negotiation with 'the merchants of the Hansa called Esterlynges residing at Lynn in le Stileyerd' over local commercial privileges.

Although the Kontors in Lynn and Boston were occupied by Hanseatic merchants after 1474, there appears to have been few Germans resident in these Wash ports by the early 16th century, and both trading ports were eventually rented by local men.  Parts of the Lynn Kontor were used by English merchants before the entire complex was let out by the London Kontor to Robert Daniel in 1571.


Select Bibliography


K. Friedland & P. Richards           Essays in Hanseatic History (Dereham 2005)

K. Friedland                                 Die Hanse (Stuttgart, Berlin, K'ln  1991)

J. Fudge                                     Cargoes, Embargoes and Emissaries: The Commercial and Political Interaction of England and the German Hanse 1450 - 1510 (University of Toronto 1995)

E.G. Gash                                   The Hansa (London 1929)

N. J?rn                                       'With Money and Bloode' (K?ln 2000)


T. H. Lloyd                                   England and the German Hanse 1157 - 1611 (Cambridge 1991)

D. Owen ed.                                 The Making of King's Lynn (Oxford 1984)

P. Richards                                 King's Lynn (Phillimore 1990)

S. H. Rigby ed.                             The Overseas Trade of Boston in the Reign of Richard II (Lincoln Record Society 2005)

P. Thompson                                The History of the Antiquities of Boston(Boston 1856)


PS:  I acknowledge my debt to T.H. Lloyd and J.Fudge for general knowledge of the Hanseatic League in England.  Professor Stuart Jenks has researched Lynn's Hanseatic history and his work has been most valuable.  I would like to thank Professor Klaus Friedland of Kiel for his support and advice about all things Hanseatic over the last 10 years.


                                                                        ©Dr Paul Richards, Gresham College, 14 June 2007

Part Two: 'The Material Culture', 'The Hansa and its Influence on Early Modern Ideas of Commerce' and 'The Lasting Legacy of the Hansa'

The second part of the symposium included the following talks:

    The Material Culture by Geoff Egan, Museum of London

    The Hansa and its Influence on Early Modern Ideas of Commerce
    by Professor Michael Mainelli

    The Lasting Legacy of the Hansa by Alderman Alison Gowman, DLA Piper UK LLP

Chaired by Professor Tim Connell

Listen to the lecture

Download the video

Download the audio

Transcript of the lecture



Geoff Egan


I am an archaeologist, and archaeology does not actually cover the Hansa by any means in London, though it does have a few intriguing moments.  If you look at a late Elizabethan map, or plan, of London you can see the Steelyard right in the middle of the City waterfront on the north bank. The Arms of London as writ in the terms of the Hansa has a symbol on the top right - that is the symbol that we have been desperately looking for in the archaeology of London but have failed to find. 

I am focusing on things that are German-cum-Germanic that have been found in London and almost certainly through the agency of the Hansa.  That is the trade that we have heard so much about already. 

At the Museum of London we have a very recent acquisition, two panels of paintings, and they are in pride of place in the Museum's new medieval gallery, which is just about a year old now.  We really lacked anything in terms of high two-dimensional art in the medieval period in London generally, so it is very nice that these became available from a private source, at a great price: two outside triptych panels of an altarpiece almost certainly, but in German style and commissioned by one of the abbots of Westminster Abbey, George Fasset or Fascet - you can spell his name in many ways - but this is actually German art being commissioned from London for, presumably, the Abbey, to go on some altarpiece there.  It shows the arms of Westminster Abbey and of George Fasset himself on the other side and the enunciation scene.  That must have been absolutely stunning, with its golden background against candlelight, when it was on display - a very German way of doing it, but rather nice.  The Curator, John Clark, thinks this is the sort of thing that you may have been able to go down in London to the Steelyard and say, 'Well, we can't do this sort of thing here in London, but what I want is something rather nice for this Abbey - what can you get us from back home where I know you specialise in this sort of thing?'  So this is a tangible example of exactly that.

Archaeology manages to get everything extremely oblique.  It does not answer the question that you went there to ask, it invariably answers something else and moves the question on in another different way.  Some people get fed up with it for this reason, but we quite like it.  We are always the ones who say, 'It ain't necessarily so' to anybody, so when you ask any question, I'll probably say that - or that you are asking the wrong question! The Museum also has wooden bowls, part of a very small group that was found in a 14th Century pit at St Mary Spittle - it was actually a hospital.  It is very unusual for us to get wooden survivals.  Most of them are fairly standard form for this country, very simple wooden bowls that were used to eat mushy medieval meals out of with the aid of a spoon, but we have one which struck me as being rather odd.  In fact, I could not parallel it other than with a group in Lubeck.  You can turn the thing over and it is almost a repeat but perhaps, in the specific context of the hospital, this is for somebody who is a bit shaky and somebody else can hold it fairly firmly while helping a patient to eat. 

I subsequently bought, in Vienna, a wonderful series of playing cards from the late 15th, early 16th Century, and on the 7 there is a figure called Mr Truckles, who is holding a server of food at the smartest level. He is holding a whole series of these double plates, which are held together with a scarf or something - something very fancy.  A man who specialises in reproducing these things discovered, accidentally, that they are stackable.  He hadn't realised as he was doing producing them.  He knew it was German, he knew it was not of this country, so for the first time, when this one had come up in this country, he thought he would reproduce one.  In fact, he did three.  When at the end of the day he had finished, he piled them up and he suddenly realised that they stack, that that is what they are about - that is why they are of that shape.  So it is a cunning German invention.  What it was doing in St Mary's Spittle, I do not know, but it is absolutely appropriate for a hospital where you are going to be dishing out a series of meals to lots of patients.  Normally, anything of wood will end up on the fire as fuel when it has outlasted itself - that is why it is so very unusual, in fact much less usual than the dreaded ceramics, which I expect everybody thought I was going to talk about.

The Museum of London also has some stoneware mugs of the 16thCentury, which are familiar to us from all those Bruegel patients drinking and coughing beer, and these came literally in their hundreds and thousands, according to the documents, into this country, and we have very large numbers of them.  Some are a bit jollier and larger, with wonderful moustaches and beards.  Arguably, wine actually came in those and was traded in them, but some of these stoneware artefacts show a very characterful bearded man, and he is a motif that appears right the way through from the 14th Century.  They are sometimes very sketchy, but they come into their own in the 16th Century, and eventually it comes to the point where we actually start making these ourselves in England in the 17th Century, when the Hansa trade dies down, not least during the 30 Years War.

What is most unusual in the Museum collection is a schneller which, again, was found in London. It is a very high drinking mug, again probably for beer, but it has got the royal arms on, and these are the very 'top end' of the ceramic market.   This is the sort of thing that might well have a silver cap put on it by somebody, and we are very fortunate to have one with the royal arms.  They were produced in very large numbers, and there seem to be ones with arms for virtually all of the Hansa towns and probably a lot of other towns, so it was probably a gift at a very high level indeed.

What we also get at the tail end of the medieval period is the German fashion of stoves, with large stoves to keep the winter cold at bay, and they have very characteristic tiles, which are hollow at the back so that they radiate out the heat.  They are usually full of renaissance motifs.  We have not been fortunate enough to find a complete stove - we have found pieces - but typically, the very finest examples we have are things that have been found in the 19th Century that are in the Museum collections, but they are actually London finds and would have been made in Germany.  The stoves would have been in the corner of the room.

Henry VIII actually had one of these at Westminster, where we found not the tiles unfortunately but the lower waterworks, the drains, for a hot bath, almost like a Turkish bath, and it almost certainly was from the German idea.  By the time we start making these things ourselves at the tail end of the 16th Century, we are putting the royal arms on and you get ones with Elizabeth's initials to the side, and it goes on from there.  But basically the idea came from Germany.

Those of course are things that you had if you were in an aristocratic house, and they have come up particularly on the sites of the dissolved religious houses from the Reformation, which were handed over or sold - some of them handed over to Henry VIII's favourites - and there has been a whole series of little fragments of these tiles on exactly those sites, which makes a lot of sense.  Some of the religious houses of course were bought, but they were generally divided up into the kinds of dwellings that you see in Dockland now, with great big warehouses being subdivided and very smart people being able to afford the view by the river.

What also comes in the 16th Century and into the 17th Century are some more 'folksy' kind of ceramics.  We have one that originates from the Verra, but it is almost certainly the Hanseatic impetus that made it, and it was then bought in the markets in London. 

Another, dated 1584, is from the River Vassa, and it shows a rather sad-looking fish.  It is a very nice folksy picture type of plate that would be quite smart but it is no particular great shakes.  It is the sort of thing that if you could just afford something to put on display, this is what you would have, rather than the silver thing that you really aspired to if you had a serious amount of money.  Some are decorated with a whole series of knights and lovely ladies and all sorts of things like that, which came from the particular area of the traders.

One is lead, but - I said archaeology was oblique! - it is standing for wire, coming from Germany.  In the 16th Century, and throughout the medieval period, we could not produce brass, or only very occasionally.  I think somebody has managed to find the exceptional document that does show we managed to do it at least once, but that is not the broad picture.  The broad picture is that we got brasswares from the Continent.  While the wire itself is pretty anonymous, you can imagine when we do find it, we find quite a lot of brass wire.  What it did have on it was a lead seal, which said the factory that it came from. This is like a hallmark that says it is of good quality, it was made here, and sometimes it will say the year if one is lucky.  We have several different seals for wire from Hamburg, and it does at least indicate that the wire that we are picking up is indeed almost certainly German.

In 1987, we had the opportunity, amazingly, to dig on the site of the Steelyard, of which we have already heard, in London, right in the centre.  We got terribly excited.  The Steelyard, one, is a sort of shibalith of archaeology that you would find so much material, prime material, in waterlogged deposits, which preserves metals and so forth extremely well.  It was all done under the arches of Cannon Street Railway Station, by artificial light, and there was a slight sort of miasma in the air.  It was not by any means pleasant and in fact we had to share the space with some others who were contributing to that air not being good.  It was very stressful indeed, and from my point of view as a medieval and later specialist, it was very annoying.  It was great for the Roman experts, but unfortunately Cannon Street Railway Station in the mid-19th Century had taken out virtually everything that related to the Hansa, the highest of what we hoped would be the surviving pockets.  It is one chalk foundation and not exactly inspiring, so it is purely documentary evidence that says that that is the Steelyard.  We are fairly confident that it is, but it does not actually add anything - okay, so what, we've got it on map anyway, why bother?  Well, we hoped there would be a cesspit or a well or something like that.  However, almost perversely, the pottery was actually English on the site that was of the appropriate date.  There was one piece of glass which might or might not be German, but that is extending an argument - so much for archaeology!

We do have a find from the Thames.  You have seen the man in his contour office already in that wonderful painting by Holbein with all those seals, and this one says the seal of Heraman, which I hope is going to be German.  We think it is.  Heraman may be spelt right, or it may just be an English engraver's mistake for Herman, but it sounds pretty good for a

German, and it is actually a Germanic style of privy mark, the merchant's mark which identifies his own bales of goods or workmanship or whatever it is.  This is probably 15th Century, into the early 16th Century - a rather nice find.

We have an absolutely standard buckle of the 14th Century and the late 13th Century and indeed the early 15th Century, but these are so widespread across that whole area that we have seen in some of these slides, literally from Taline to Toulouse, going even further down into France, that it has been called by some people on the Continent 'the Hanseatic buckle'.  We had at least two foundries in London casting them, and it is probably German metal that is being used, so in a sense possibly it is the Hanseatic buckle, but the buckle was distributed by the Hansa.  In fact, in Taline they were casting them, and in Toulouse as well, they have a foundry, so it is just pan-Western European, but that is perhaps another way of saying Hanseatic if you put the emphasis on the Northern side of it.

What we do get in huge numbers are coin-like things.  We do not seem to get many actual coins of the Hanseatic towns at all, which is a great pity, but we do get these things which are brass, made in Nuremburg, called jetton, and these are counting tokens.  You had a cloth or a painted table divided into a checkerboard, and its columns were hundreds, tens and units.  There was a very complicated way, before the computer and before mathematics got able to deal with it, you did your long division and your accounting with these things.  It is much more like an abacus than the kind of mathematics that we are all familiar with from school, but these were the things witth which you counted your hundreds, tens and units.  Doing long division with these is really quite something absolutely amazing. 

They came in in the late 14th Century, produced in Germany, and they came right from Southern Germany, from Nuremburg, and they absolutely flooded through the whole of Europe.  They were knee-deep in London.  In Novgorod, they are all over the place as well, and they go right down at least to Paris and I suspect down to Toulouse.  It is sheer entrepreneurial flair that latched on to these and pushed them throughout Europe and has actually sustained the system.  In fact, in the early 16thCentury, they got so bad that the letters that were stamped on them were upside down, the wrong way round.  Some were so badly made that to sustain this market right across Europe really must have taken an extraordinary entrepreneurial flair. 

They have been found in King's Lynn and everywhere.  But they are not just in Hansa places.  They are more common in fact than the coin of the realm on most sites in this country for this date.  They are a thundering nuisance for those of us who have to deal with these because they have tiny differences, and you try looking at 16 letters and then finding that one is the wrong way round!  The most interesting thing about them is that entrepreneurial flair that manages to keep them going, and they do keep struggling on into the 17th and 18th Centuries, but the big impetus does seem to end more or less when the Hansa comes to what is sometimes called its end - although we must not say that of course now!

Another simple very obvious everyday thing is a thimble, which starts in the late 13th Century.  The Museum of London has what are probably early English thimbles, and they are a bit haphazard, with pits and so forth.

With a good bit of entrepreneurial flair are much smarter products from Nuremburg.  Nuremburg comes with an entirely completely developed guild system, to the extent that there is a sort of cross stamped - you know how big a thimble is going to be, and there is a little tiny shield shape at the bottom of the spiral of pits, with a couple of lines and a sort of spiky thing, and those are the privy marks of the people who made them.  They had to do that in Nuremburg to satisfy the guild that it was done with the right metal, that you were not going to push the needle through and stab your finger, which you certainly could do with some of the badly made ones from elsewhere, but again, these are found across that whole area from Nuremburg, and it is the Hansa that pushed them across North-West Europe. 

I was talking about wire.  We have some pins which are not quite made.  We tried to do this at the point where the Dissolution happened.  If you didn't have an aristocrat moving into an old dissolved religious house, you would get all the dossers and so forth, and in fact it happens that the first thing you do - or the last thing you do before you go on the street - is you twiddle around with wire and try and make jewellery or pins, and we have some of the pins that didn't quite work; the head has gone halfway down.  None of these has actually got their points.  They put the head on first and then the head is a separate piece of wound wire.  But we couldn't do it as well, and we were almost certainly using German brass, as attested by those seals.

The other big thing is textiles.  We have some are lead seals that went on each cloth, again a hallmark to say the cloth is all right.  These are in every single field in England, if you dig hard enough or use a metal detector long enough; there are absolutely thousands of them.  Again, they go right the way through to Novgorod in the archaeology, and down into Spain and Portugal, but coming right from the Southern end of Germany.

From the late 14th Century, as fine as a modern linen handkerchief, is the St Gallen cross of cotton and linen.  SG and the imperial eagle and the bear of St Gallen - that is in Lake Constance in Switzerland.  So though we have not got the textiles, what we have got are the lead labels surviving in the archaeology, which show this extraordinary trade.  It was generally the linens that came in and the woollen textiles that went out.  We also get silk coming in from the looms of Cologne in the early and mid16th Century. 

It is actually quite a surprise that we have pewter plates stamped with the three crowns of Cologne, because we had the materials here.  So the country which is famous throughout Europe for exporting pewter appears occasionally in the 16th Century to be importing pewter from Cologne! 

We have some wonderful glass with enamelling on from the early 14thCentury, near Goldsmiths' Hall, which was where Goldsmiths' Row was.  They ended up in a pit, and they are almost certainly the result of some disaster, a collapsed cupboard or shelf or something, and famously, you can't do much with glass when it is broken.  These would have been waiting to have mounts of gold or silver, because they are that high level, so when they have smashed, that was it - you couldn't do anything with them.  We long thought these were German, but that was helped by the arms, which is a beast on a three-pronged thing, which turns out to be a mountain.  However, unfortunately these things turn out to be made in Venice, but it is arguably the Hansa that brought them here.

Talking of trade routes, again Nuremburg is famous for producing early toys.  The Nuremburg National Museum has the earliest surviving dolls house, from 1639.  For a long time, the Museum of London had no toys, but we have found a whole series of things, several hundred in fact, from the 14th Century onwards.  There are more plates than anything else; one is about an inch across, with a rose on.  If you go to the great fair at Christmas time in Nuremburg, you will be able to buy every kind of toy and every kind of Christmas decoration, but the toy plates still have a rose on.  We have a whole series of these things - little miniature jugs and so forth - and they are made of lead tin. 

I asked the lady in the Nuremburg Museum, and she said that she had been puzzled for the past 20 years, people from all of Europe going and asking her 'Where are your medieval toys?' and they have none in Germany.  There are one or two actually, but there is nothing like the large numbers that we have.  I gave her a book I had written about these things, and I think they are making theirs of wood and other things.

One figurine, a girl, in a mid-16th Century woodcut, is holding is a toy, and these have come up - they are about three inches high figurines of lovely mid-Tudor, late-Tudor ladies, made from fairly thin pewter.  The interesting thing is that the dress, which is fully pleated at the back, is in a German style, a German fashion.  There is none of these surviving anywhere but London, these toys, anywhere throughout Europe, and I have gone far and wide in pursuit of these.  There generally seems to be none.  There are about three representations of the particular dress in this country, and when you take it back, they are on a woman from Germany or from Southern Switzerland.  So somehow, this Nuremburg story may have something in it, but we are not getting it quite fully yet.  We are making these things, I am fairly certain.  I am pretty sure these are London products, but the idea and the fashion that they are using is a German one, so there may be something of textile or whatever that came in and we were just picking that up.

We have a Pilgrim badge, a little tiny thing that you sew on when you have been, in this case, to Cologne, and you can see the three kings with their three crowns which we have already encountered in the arms of Cologne.  This was found at the London waterfront, but from somebody who had been to Germany - who knows why, but it is just an indication of travel.

Everybody has heard of Guttenberg, but I expect some of you know that not only was he an entrepreneur in doing things to do with printing, but he also had a line in mirrors.  This is apropos the Pilgrim badges, because this is a religious article being shown by the authorities of some religious house at the top, on the first floor.  Armed to the teeth is the army, the thugs, with a whole series of crossbows and spiky-ended sticks and God knows what to keep the public down here away from that lot up there and stop them getting at the actual relic.  Some of the people, at least two of them  are holding up circular objects.  Those are mirrors, as produced by Guttenberg, and what they are doing is catching the influence and trapping it in the mirror, and they will go away and when it is needed, they will open the mirror and the person who is sick or whatever will look into that mirror and will hopefully be cured.  You have got to do your bit by being good, so if it does not work, then it is your fault.

There is something else that Guttenberg did, and it so happens that we found from archaeology a whole series.  We have the English version, in lead tin with the Crucifixion scene, and it basically works exactly like a powder compact, with a very tiny mirror inside it.  Each disk is about an inch and a half across in diameter.  The mirror itself has gone.  The meniscus curve, where the lead failed to flow properly, has disembodied St John to the side of Christ.  That is the English smart version.  The nice, probably German, version, we think, though we have yet to demonstrate that, is duly of brass, and there are a large number of these.

Finally, I would like to draw your attention, those of you who may be interested in the archaeological side, to one of so far six of a wonderful series of Hanseatic colloquia, which happen in Lubeck every two years on a theme.  It is basically about 40 archaeologists, one from each of a particular Hanseatic town, who will talk on a particular theme.  The next one is on trade; there are others on crafts; there are others on more archaeological things like infrastructure, which means drains and fortifications.  It is not widely advertised in the UK.  It is in both English and German - that is, you have got papers in English and others in German, but there are summaries - and it is a wonderful resource.  You get more pictorial evidence for the actual material culture of the Hansa from all of those 40 places than anywhere else.



                                                                                    ©Geoff Egan, Gresham College, 14 June 2007









Michael Mainelli


History is the lens we use to make the past fit the present.  In the time allotted, I would like to explore how we fit the Hanse to early modern finance, and early modern finance to the, arguably, post-modern era.  The academic study of early modern finance often focuses on the Netherlands and England.  There is good reason for this focus.  While finance is fascinating everywhere, the emergence of exchanges for intangible goods, the advancements on Italian banking practices, the evolution of insurance and, perhaps most important of all, the introduction of joint stock companies, all emanate from the Netherlands or England within the space of two centuries, coinciding roughly with the period of the Enlightenment.  I hasten to point out that I am not an historian, nor a Hanse expert.  I am simply a Professor of Commerce fascinated by what, at first glance, seems to be the first free-wheeling organisation of free-market merchants pre-dating our early modern studies of the Netherlands and England, yet outside the Mediterranean.  I would like to share some of that fascination, some of my disillusionment and some of the inspiration I draw from Hanseatic history.  Yet, behind it all lies a misty, romantic vision of the Hanse, or the Hanseatic League.


Mythical Influence

The mythology of the pre-modern and early modern eras often looked to giants of a misty, bygone era.  Just as the romances of Atlantis, Avalon, Camelot or Eden drove men to launch expeditions, so too did men create myths to justify expeditions.  A 16th century Venetian text, De I Commentarii del Viaggio, gave an account of a 14th century voyage by Nicolo and Antonio Zeno in the North Atlantic, who supposedly sailed to the new lands of Frisland, Icaria, Estotiland, and Drogi.  The text may be complete fiction, but it was widely accepted as true.  So much so that the original 1558 map was followed by a map in 1561 from the Venetian  Giordano Ruscelli and let Gerard Mercator, in his seminal world map of 1569, to include these non-existent lands.  Mercator included Frisland in a separate inset on his 1595 map of the North Pole.  This non-existent island led to considerable confusion in the mapping of Greenland and Baffin Island yet appeared as late as the eighteenth century on a map by TC Lotter. 

Realising the importance of myth and fantasy, we return to today's proceedings - 'The Hanse and its Influence on Early Modern Ideas of Commerce'.  Basically, the thesis is that the Hanseatic period from roughly the 13th to the 16th century influenced ideas of the early modern period.  Though 'early modern' is a flexible term, I shall take it to mean the 16th to 18th centuries.  In commercial terms, this is a very interesting period, not only because the period includes the rise of exchanges, banking, insurance and joint stock companies, but also because it ends rather authoritatively with Adam Smith.

So what was the state of thinking about commerce in the early modern era?  When I want to quickly examine the state of late 18th century Enlightenment thinking my fastest route is to turn to Adam Smith.  He makes one reference in the Wealth of Nations to the Hanse - 'It was during the unprosperous reigns of the princes of the house of Suabia, that the greater part of the free towns of Germany received the first grants of their privileges, and that the famous Hanseatic league first became formidable.' [Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, 1776, Bantam 2003, page 510]

This snippet comes from Book III Chapter III where Smith discusses the 'Rise of Towns'.  Smith acknowledges that he relies upon Christian Friedrich Pfeffel's 1777 «Nouvel Abrégé Chronologique de l'Histoire et du Droit Public d'Allemagne ».  He points out that towns gain rights and privileges where they and the sovereign collude against the agrarian lords and barons.  Hanse history influenced Smith's thinking.

Of course, the second basic route to 18th century Enlightenment thinking on commerce is the US Constitution.  In under 8,000 words we have a précis, with experience of the frayed Articles of Confederation and a commitment to 'going live' in 1789, of how government and society should function, a basic operating system in the modern vernacular.  Even in modern times, the Constitution is clearly rather federalist and verges on what we might term libertarianism.  On commerce, there are two interesting clauses:

The first clause is Section 8 on the powers of Congress - 'To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes'.  Interestingly, on 17 April 1808, Napoleon issued the Bayonne Decree, authorizing the French seizure of all US vessels entering French and Italian ports and all ports of the Hanseatic League.  Napoleon conveniently argued that his action helped the United States enforce its new policy prohibiting trade with other nations.  []

The second clause is Section 9 on restrictions on Congress - 'No Preference shall be given by any Regulation of Commerce or Revenue to the Ports of one State over those of another: nor shall Vessels bound to, or from, one State, be obliged to enter, clear, or pay Duties in another.'

The founding fathers had a good understanding of free trade, and of the Hanseatic League.  The Federalist Papers (Number 19 - 'The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the  Union') dwell at length, and not always favourably, on their interpretation of the economic history of Germany.  They make a similar reference to Smith, 'In Donawerth, a free and imperial city of the circle of Suabia, the Abb 300 de St Croix enjoyed certain immunities which had been reserved to him.'  This reference is hardly surprising as they too  note their reliance on Pfeffel.  But they also had direct experience of the Hanse.  John Adams himself participated in negotiations with the Hanse.  After their rough ride with the Articles of Confederation, it is probable that the Hanse's endurance was one of several inspirational examples, I'd include many classical leagues and Switzerland as well, that helped convince the founding fathers that Federalism could be made to work, albeit a federalism tighter than the loose Confederation and a federalism much stronger than that they saw in early Germany history.  In fact, the Hanseatic League is still invoked in modern times to explain forms of federalism.  I quote from a recent 2005 text on European Federalism:

'From among all of the models of political integration federalism is considered to have the longest tradition going back to the ancient Greek Leagues and medieval Hanseatic League.  In the ideological layer federalism gives no universal method of integration.  - All of them are designed for establishing political union between the states but each of them has developed its own approach to the problem of the role of the states and the division of the powers in the union it aims to create.  According to this criterion there can be distinguished three main orientations: centralistic federalism, decentralistic  federalism and federalism of balance.' [Ewa Klimczewska, Marta Makulec, Piotr Kwiatkowski, 'Confederalism, Federalism And Unitarism As Methods Of  Establishing Common Europe', Warsaw University, 2005 -]

So the Hanse was well-known to intellectuals and commercial folk.  But how influential could its example be.  We can surmise.  Edward Rutherford, in his novel London, touches on how having a foreign enclave right in the heart of your own town with special privileges might affect a Londoner:

 1611 - 'All through the Middle Ages, the huge fleets of the German Hanseatic towns had dominated the northern seas, and the mighty market of Antwerp in Flanders had been the hub of all northern Europe's trade.  But during the last sixty years great changes had taken place.  Newly assertive English merchant shipping had made such inroads on the Hansa monopoly that the old London Steelyard of the Hansa men had finally been closed;[and as the Reformation led Protestant Antwerp into a ruinous war with its Catholic Habsburg [sic] overlord,] London had grabbed a chunk of the Flanders trade for itself.  The new Royal Exchange, where the merchants of London met, was, appropriately, a copy of the great meeting place, or bourse of Antwerp.'

 Rutherfurd, Edward, London, Fawcett Crest, 1997, page 684.

We can reflect on this foreign-controlled free trade zone of the Stalhof affecting local views by considering comparable situations in China and Japan two centuries later.  Foreign freedoms in Hong Kong and Macau and Shanghai had a significant effect on contemporary Chinese opinion and events.  In the case of Smith and the Founding Fathers, I speculate that the Hanse may have been a subtle inspiration for rebellion - plucky merchants, setting their own rules, rich and arrogant - well why can't we be like them?  'If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.'  So the Hanse was known and probably affected views of commerce intellectually and emotionally.

I would pick out a few modern prejudices through which we focus on the past.  At most times we rely on markets in an unaware, unthinking and ungrateful way.  We don't spend much time marvelling at the wonder of it all, as our bread is made for us, or electricity is piped to our homes or television programmes are transmitted into our living rooms.  We are normally only interested in markets when we think they're failing.  I hasten to point out that in my opinion, using a strict definition of market, markets never fail.  Transparent markets with competition don't fail.  They are excellent at allocating resources, providing information and transferring risk.  What markets don't do is provide social equity.  If social equity needs markets to take account of externalities, these externalities need to be built into market costs.  As an example, with the current European Trading Scheme in carbon we are trying to price an historic externality, carbon emissions, into today's commerce.  Another aspect of social equity is society's perception of 'excessive gains'.  We realise that different societies have different tolerances for inequality and different views on equality of opportunity versus equality of outcome.  Yet, many societies, even those fairly tolerant of inequality, can find it hard to swallow the returns to market winners.  Witness our debates about Fat Cats or the earnings of celebrities and sports stars or the pension arrangements of civil servants.  Social equity is outside markets' performance envelope unless they are carefully designed.  Turning these points on their head, we can examine the influence of the Hanse on early modern finance and ourselves by looking in turn at lessons from Hanse practices, and then our own concepts of market failure:

¨    information asymmetries; ¨    monopolies; ¨    social inequity.


Lessons From Hanse Practices

As shippers, the Hanse had practices for pooling risk and the provision of credit that evolved in other shipping cultures, such as the Italians.  Letters of credit and certificates of deposit, as well as the mechanisms to handle currency fluctuations among the members (the League didn't develop a common currency) all existed.  Long-distance traders, using ships or camel caravans, need a lot of intangible products to conduct their business.  Most of these products are about managing risk.  I speculate that the Antwerp Bourse may have arisen, and been successful, as a market for things that aren't normally found in a victual or agricultural market because shipping firms need intangible financial services to fund, and manage the risk of, voyages.  The Antwerp Bourse and the Royal Exchange accelerated a disassociation from physical produce or product to more abstract trading in virtual products, such as parts of a hull, shares in a voyage or insurance, leading to modern notions, well beyond joint stock companies, of forwards, futures, options and index derivatives.  To start to understand Hanse practices in the context of their times, here is an extract from the Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World:

'Early modern merchants, entrepreneurs, and financiers operated in an age of money scarcity and relied, therefore, to a very large extent on credit.  Indeed, these men often traded within systems of interlocking credit, owing money to their suppliers or lenders and owed money by their customers and clients.  Such systems could be quite fragile; one default could cause others, rippling across the entire network of relationships.  In addition, they operated in an economy that lacked legal and fiscal institutions to ensure and enforce credit transactions.  As a result, merchants, entrepreneurs, and financiers relied upon personal relationships and personal knowledge to reduce the risk of default.  Being a close-knit community in most places, they often knew who was or was not a good credit source or credit risk.  Where personal knowledge would not serve, intermediaries, such as notaries or goldsmiths, often arose, and used their own knowledge of persons (and their means) to mediate and facilitate credit exchange.  Questions of reputation and risk, to say nothing of the issue of fraud, were a function of the transmission of information and touch the boundaries between economic and cultural history.  They also touch the social history of economic life in early modern Europe.  Merchants also depended on a wide range of organizations to reduce risk and reinforce reputations: they formed partnerships among themselves; they entered into collective agreements; they drew upon the resources of their families; they strengthened business agreements with confessional ties (by doing business with people of the same Christian creed).'

We could draw parallels at length between the Hanse and Lloyd's, the Hanse and the East India companies, the Hanse and early joint stock companies or the Hanse and futures.  However, I question whether this is something intrinsic to the Hanse, i.e.  a sequential cause and effect chain leading to modern financial institutions, or whether the Hanse is simply another example of similar discoveries based on common challenges in long-distance trading.  Any federal trading structure will find mechanisms to share risks and rewards and these mechanisms are, for the most part, pre-ordained and will emerge naturally.  The mechanisms only differ in their conventions.  If we knew more about Ancient Greek, Mesopotamian, Phoenician or Chinese shipping federations, would we find similar structures?  My guess, and that of Moore and Lewis, is that where true federations with minimal state direction exist, yes, the evolved structures will be similar, collective arrangements and family ties in hull insurance, cargo insurance, shares in a voyage, management arrangements, information security, etc.


Information Asymmetries

As with all great merchant schemes, particularly trading schemes, the Hanse thrived on information.  Where information matters, information asymmetries provide competitive edge, so the Hanse had a postal system that increased the regularity of communication and decreased interception risk, keeping information private.  Hanse merchants were able to use their private knowledge of supply and demand at distant ports to their advantage.  The Taxis in Regensburg, the Rothschilds in London, Paul Julius Reuter and Michael Bloomberg are all examples of private information providing commercial advantage.

I was sailing through the Shetland Islands in 2004 and landed in the small port of Symbister on Whalsay Island.  Imagine my surprise to find a small museum dedicated to the Hanse in a 'pier house' which had been used by Hanse merchants.

'Tradition says German merchants built the pier house.  Merchants from Bremen came to Whalsay in the 16th century.  The road leading to it was called the Bremen Strasse.  Tradition has it that the dwelling house nearby was the original booth or böd (Norse for hut or storehouse).  Merchants from Hamburg first record Whalsay in the early 17th century.  R.  Stuart Bruce believed Hamburg merchants built the pier house.

 The pier and booth were built at the same time and rise straight from the sea.  The booth was altered several times.  Gables are of the same granite as Symbister House finished in 1830 (stone quarried at Staveness in Nesting).  The shingle beach nearby and skeo built on it were for drying fish.  Ling and cod were caught on hooks on long lines mainly from fourereens (4 oared boats) imported from Norway.  Sixereens (6 oars) were also used but were rare until after the Hansa period was over.

 Some more interesting stories and facts:

¨    It is recorded that in 1567 pirates attacked Herman Shröder at the booth in Symbister.  ¨    A paper from 1715 says the booth at Saltness (near Symbister) was near Kurts Stane where boats used to tie up.  Kurt Hemeling was a German merchant.  ¨    Shetlands main export was dried and salted fish (mainly ling and cod).  They also exported butter, cloth and fish oil. ¨    To trade or sell merchants took fishing gear (hooks, lines, ropes, tar, salt), food and drink (rye meal, wheat flour, bread, mead, beer and spirits), household goods (linen, muslin, soap and ironmongery) and money.'

[from Brian Smith, emailed by Caroline Kay]

Clearly, successful, enduring trade is built on good information.  In the case of the Shetlands, the Kontor of Bergen's knowledge of their needs and the demand for their goods turned Hanseatic knowledge into profit.  But it was not all sweetness and light.  Here we turn to monopolies.



'In 1284, Hansa brought Norway to heel.  Norwegians had attacked one of their ships and they retaliated with a blockade, banning exports to Norway of grain, flour, vegetables and beer.  There was a famine in Norway and the Norwegians signed a humiliating treaty giving Hansa extensive privileges.  Bergen became the centre of trade for all Norwegian dominions including Shetland, which from 1195 to 1469 was ruled directly from Norway.  In 1316 a prominent Shetlander was elected to a special committee to regulate imports.

 From the 15th century on the Hansa began to fail.  One result of decline was a new relationship between German merchants in Shetland.  Merchants disliked channelling all Shetland trade through Bergen and Hansa records illegal voyages direct from Germany to Shetland.  For more than 100 years Hansa issued decrees forbidding the illegal trade with Shetland and threatened expulsion from the Hansa, or confiscation of ships and goods, but without effect.  As Hansa's central organisation broke up, small groups of Germans began to make annual trips to Shetland to trade directly.  This trade flourished for three centuries and outlived Hansa.  The merchants sailed in early spring, the voyage taking 2-3 weeks.  They took salt for the fish they hoped to buy and throughout the summer lay at anchor all around Shetland.  They sailed home in August or September. 

 The ships were small (about 70 feet) and carried 6-18 crew made up of 'maschep', a trading firm whose members were often relatives.  In 1539, 20% stockfish (dried, salted ling and cod) declared to customs at Bremen came from Shetland.  16th century Shetland probably provided 10% of international trade in this.'

In summary:

'Shetland's trade was monopolised by the Kontor in Bergen from which the Hansa controlled Norway.  The Norwegians depended on grain from the Hansa and therefore could not develop an independent economy of their own.  Hansa obtained from them fish, wool and furs.'

But the Shetlands suffered as well when the trade was broken:

'After the Act of Union, 1707, English navigation laws came into force in Shetland forbidding the import of salt by foreigners.'

Monopolistic aspects of the Hanse were felt elsewhere in the British Isles.  Kurlansky, in his book Cod, points out that the Hanse were often seen to be a force for good; 'It stood up against the abuses of monarchs, stopped piracy, dredged channels, and built lighthouses.  In England, league members were called Easterlings because they came from the east, and their good reputation is reflected in the word sterling?' [Kurlansky, page 26]  'But the league grew increasingly abusive of its power and ruthless in defense of trade monopolies.  In 1381, mobs rose up in England and hunted down Hanseatics, killing anyone who could not say bread and cheese with an English accent.'  Rather ironically, modern Lübeck has streets named 'Engelsgrube' or 'Engelswisch'.  These don't refer to angels, but to the English, 'English ditch' and 'English field'.

But trading tensions were long-standing.  Kurlansky relates how in 1475 Hanseatic restrictions on Bristol obtaining Icelandic cod energised Bristolians to undertake expeditions seeking 'Hy-Brasil' in the west.  Quite soon Bristol restored its cod supply from a secret source.  Interestingly, in the very late 15th century a letter was supposedly sent by Bristol merchants to Christopher Columbus alleging 'that he knew perfectly well that they had been to America already'. [Kurlansky, page 28]  Further, Giovanni Caboto, or John Cabot in English, sailed from Bristol to a New Found Land in 1497.  However, new sources of fish did not end conflicts and the first 'cod war' was waged not by the English and the Icelanders, but by the English and the Hanseatic League after an Englishman was murdered in an Icelandic fishing station.  'Uncharacteristic of the British, after a brief fight they simply withdrew fro the Icelandic fishery.' [Kurlansky, page 52-54].  And the battles continued - in 1597 English merchants were expelled from the Holy Roman Empire in retaliation for treatment of the Hanseatic League in London.


Social Inequity

Like many successful businesspeople, the Hanse were out to corner markets where they could.  The weakness of governments and isolated societies was such that Polanyi deems, 'The Hanse were not German merchants; they were a corporation of oligarchs, hailing from a number of North Sea and Baltic towns.  Far from 'nationalizing' German economic life, the Hanse deliberately cut off the hinterland from trade.  The trade of Antwerp or Hamburg, Venice or Lyons, was in no way Dutch or German, Italian or French.  London was no exception: it was as little 'English' as Luebeck was 'German'.' [Polanyi, page 63]

Corruption ends many political and commercial organisations, why not the Hanse?  While the end of the Hanse is as murky as its origins, it is likely that the social inequity of control of information and monopolies created resentment.  Just as legal complexities lead to more laws, so too did problems with Hanse monopolies lead to more monopolies.  In trading terms, the most prominent monopolies were those of the 1600 English East India Company and of the 1602 Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, or Dutch East India Company.  The English East India Company had a scandalous record, even by the standards of its own times, of executive malpractice, stock exchange swindles, human rights abuses, bribery, political corruption and monopolistic force.  By the end of the 17thcentury, the Dutch quipped that the initials of the VOC stood for 'Vergann onder Corruptie - perished by corruption' [Robins, page 40].  Even the Swedish East India Company, Svenska Ostindiska Companiet, lasting from 1731 to 1813 had a significant, suspicious incident in 1745, the wreck of the East Indiaman Götheberg in fine conditions on a known hazard with the pilot on board, followed by rumours of insider benefit.

So it is highly likely that the Early Modern period, emerging as the Age of Englightment closes with Adam Smith and the US Constitution, was influenced by the Hanse.  People's views of the Hanse and commerce were, quite rightly and similar to today, mixed, some pro's some con's, rights and wrongs, good and evil:

¨    private information makes trade profitable, but sometimes unfair; ¨    monopolies or trusts will be sought and thus must be controlled by the state, or broken up; ¨    free trade with few restrictions leads to profit, but must be controlled for the good of society.


Social Pride

In the early 1990's, I landed in Venice to visit some relatives.  One of my relatives wanted to visit an exhibition, I Longobardi, the Lombards of Lombard Street fame.  I was perplexed as he exclaimed that all Northern Italians were Longobardi, 'siamo tutti Longobardi'.  Then I realised that the exhibition was funded to a large degree by the Lega Nord, Italy's political party for the northern regions that the Northern League terms 'Padania'.  I imagined this Northern League sitting in a smoke-filled room looking at maps in reverse chronological order seeking a common ancestry.  'Bourbons, wrong message, keep going; Papal States, nope, wrong area; keep going; Republic of Venice, nope, incomplete coverage, a bit further; Lombards, hmm, go on some more; Roman Empire, nope, too broad.  Hey go back one!  That's perfect.  From 568 to 774, look at the coverage, just what we need.  The Lombards fit our member regions exactly.  Let's promote them for the sake of unity.'

Of course contrasting the Hanse with Northern Italy can be unflattering.  I quote from Taylor, 'Recently Spufford (2002, 376-80) has compared the scales of commercial activity by assessing the values of goods coming in and out of Lubeck and Genoa. He concludes that there is a ratio of about 5:1 in Genoa's favour. However, while Lubeck is by far the leading Hanse city, Genoa is just one of several important northern Italian cities and therefore he estimates the regional disparity at a ratio of about 10:1.'  So as I look at today's Baltic enthusiasm for all things Hanseatic, I can be suspicious of some propaganda promoting ancient links.  The depth of association in the modern era, from car registration plates, to town signs, to company names, even to a brand of plaster/band-aid, is impressive.  You can travel a 'Hanse Route' in Germany.  The myths of the Hanse touch modern literature, perhaps lightly, but do.  A Terran Hanseatic League exists in Kevin J. Anderson's science fiction series, Saga of Seven Suns.  In the long-running German Perry Rhodan science fiction series, the Cosmic Hansa (Kosmische Hanse) fills the Galaxy.  Robert Heinlein's Citizen of the Galaxy centres on trading spaceships of old Earth nationalities where one spaceship is called 'Hansea.'  Ian M Banks'Culture series has Hansa overtones as does Isaac Asimov's Federation.  There is a new, popular German crime series by Derek Meister set in 14th century Lübeck with a trader as the protagonist.  Even computer gamers can work their way to the head of the Hanseatic League in The Patrician.

So where do we end?  Well I think that the Hanse did influence early modern views of commerce.  They inspired people to consider what benefits free trade might bring and how what came to be called Smith'sinvisible hand worked for the common good through selfishness.  On the other hand (sic) the Hanse encouraged people to seek the visible hand of the state to promote transparency of information and prevent the formation of monopolies.  As the East India companies show, a mixture of public, private and mixed organisational models emerged during the transition to the early modern period.  So we find ourselves today with a mythical inspiration for free trade, a unifying ancestry for the wider Baltic region and some eternal lessons on the good and evil in all commerce.  Professor Rainer Postel notes that, 'It was around 1800, when Napoleon's army was destroying the Holy Roman Empire and conquering large parts of Europe, that the myth of the Hansa being a federation of strong, free and wealthy cities emerged.'  Our historical lenses are heavily tinted with myth as we try to make the Hanse relevant to today.  Yet myths, like good wines, sometimes age well and grow in potency.  I wonder if the Hanse's influence grows as its myths age.

Thank you.



My special thanks to Mrs Caroline Kay of Symbister who kindly dug out photos and text by Mr Brian Smith on the Museum of the Hanseatic Booth, Pier House, Symbister at Whalsay on the Shetland Islands.  My thanks also to my wife, Elisabeth, for helping with the research - and the driving.


Further Surfing

On the Hanse in general -

On Frisland et al -   

Comparisons with the evolution of bankruptcy - - from Europe 1450-1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World, the Gale Group, 2003.

Whalsay -

English Angels -


Further Reading

1.      DEUTSCHE STIFTUNG DENKMALSCHUTZ, Die Hanse: Macht Des Handels, Monumente Publikationen, 2002.

2.      KURLANSKY, Mark, Cod, Vintage, 1997 (1999 edition).

3.      MEISTER, Derek, Rungholts Ehre, Random House, 2006.

4.      MOORE, Karl and LEWIS, David, Birth of the Multinational: 2000 Years of Ancient Business History - From Ashur to Augustus, Copenhagen Business School Press, 1999.

5.      POLANYI, Karl, The Great Transformation, Beacon Press, 1944 (1957 edition).

6.      ROBINS, Nick, The Corporation That Changed The World: How The East India Company Shaped The Modern Multinational, Pluto Press, 2006.

7.      SMITH, Adam, The Wealth of Nations, Bantam Dell, 1776 (2003 edition).

8.      TAYLOR, P J, Problematizing City/State Relations: Towards a Geohistorical Understanding of Contemporary Globalization, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 32 (2), 2007, pages 133-150.


©Professor Michael Mainelli, Gresham College, 14 June 2007








Alderman Alison Gowman, DLA Piper UK LLP


Coming at the end of this stimulating day I am able both to build on (crib) the ideas of the previous speakers and pedal them as my own and also (even better) to have the last word with no come back! Except from the audience!

In one very real and obvious sense the lasting legacy of the Hansa is that we are here today at this event and are able not only to present some eminent speakers but also an equally engaged and knowledgeable audience. The existence and the history of the Hansa is embedded in the psyche of the people of the City of London  just as deeply as in the more obvious display of the Hansestadts of Germany and continental Europe.

My personal involvement is as the Alderman elected for the City of London for the Ward of Dowgate. Dowgate Ward takes its name after Dowgate Hill that runs down the course of the River Walbrook into the Thames at the spot that was the Douu Gate or Watergate a landing stage -  but also the spot where the detritus and rubbish of the City was dumped. In that quaint way of the City reinventing uses over the centuries it is still the site of the City of London Public Cleansing Department and the wharf from which the barges of City rubbish travel down the Thames to the landfill site at the wonderfully named Mucking near Tilbury.

It is also the site of the Stalhof or Steelyard. This was obliterated when, in the middle of the 19th century, the site which had been sold in 1853 by the Hanseatic merchants was on-sold to the railway company that developed Cannon Street station and the major railway links into the City of London that bring in 100,000 commuters every day to the City.  The anglicised name remains in a small walkway that runs parallel with the River Thames but is completely encased under the arches of Cannon Street railway station which is Steelyard Passage. 3 As you have heard it is close by here that we  have  commemorated  60 years of British- German peace and 6 centuries of trading links. A wall plaque is surmounted with the arms of the Hanseatic League and those original stone arms are on display in the Museum of London   This plaque hangs on the side of the Cannon Street Station and Cannon Bridge development. What was the old Stalhof   is no more  and the station and Cannon Bridge loom over the River  The front section is  about to be rebuilt again and will look like this in about 3 years' time.  There are no visible remains of the Stalhof and no further excavation will take place with this new development. So no new opportunities here. But some other adjoining buildings on the River are also being developed and we will then have a  new part of the Thames Riverbank walk which will be named Hanseatic Walk. Another opportunity to remember our long history of trading.

Even if physically there is no other remains in the City of London there are many throughout the other Hansa cities. Without this becoming too much of a Cook's Tour I do want to mention a few. They provide an essential and international link for each of the Cities in which they stand- a draw for visitors and historians. These are the physical legacies of the Hansa.

King's Lynn Well I must mention as, although Paul has given a very full and interesting account of this town,  I think that to have a Hanseatic house so well preserved must be well worth a visit.

In Shetland there is still a pier house which would have provided the crane mechanism to load and unload ships and for storage.  This Hanseatic Booth otherwise called the Symbister Pier House or Bremen Bod is the only original harbour ensemble on the British Isles dating back to Hanseatic times.  It is clear that this was an important trading post with the Baltic based Hansa traders.  Originally this was largely with Bergen but as Norway suffered economic set-backs the trade became more direct with the German Hansa cities.

In Bergen the Hanseatic museum or Hanseatisk is well preserved and a beautiful building which was the trading base for the export of the stockfish or salted fish.  The adjoining block called the Schøtstuene shows where the merchants lived.

In Bremen there is an annualSchaffermahlzeit.  This is a traditional fraternity dinner for Ship's Captains and Ship's Owners and merchants that has been held since 1544. I mention this as it is said to be funded now by the proceeds of sale of the Steelyard site in London.

Of course the closest of links is between the City of London with Hamburg, or should I say Hansestadt Hamburg.  The German city, to which its Hanseatic links are so important that its city signs including the national car number plate registration, is always prefixed by Hansestadt Hamburg.  Indeed that connection is so close that there is the well-known saying which I am sure you will all have heard "in Hamburg die Regenschirme aufgespannt werdern, wenn  es in London regnet"  or "when it rains in London, we get our brollies out in Hamburg".  The Hamburg Chamber of Commerce with the Association of Hamburg Merchants of the Steelyard (the "Hamburger Kaufleute des Stalhofs") have revived the tradition of the Hanseatic merchants and for the last three years have recreated the Morgensprache (or morning talks) of the Hanseatic Merchants who worked in the City of London.  There is a governing council that elects an Alderman and other council members who all have roles of importance in the ceremony. They bear various insignia such as a cross  and a crossbow.  They wear incredible outfits with red velvet robes and black velvet caps and a silver crossbow pin.   At the first such Morgensprache in 2005 The Right Honourable Lord Mayor Sir Michael Savory attended  and since that time I have had the honour of attending to represent the Lord Mayor at this marvellous occasion.  The council elect an Alderman each year and re-enact a ceremony of installation which resembles the silent ceremony at which the Lord Mayor of the City of London is installed.  We take it as a great compliment in the City of London that the Hanseatic merchants have followed this tradition.   The events of the Morgensprache bring together the merchants of the cities of Hamburg, Bremen, Lubeck and Cologne from within Germany but also invite international guests and have spread their net to include both European and American business figures and each year an international prize is given to record the work of trade and friendship with these international partners. Indeed the very purpose of this celebration is not to hark back to a golden age but to celebrate these current vibrant and profitable links and to honour these international people who contribute to the freedom of spirit opportunity and trade that the Morgensprache represents .

This group of Hanseatic merchants have twice taken part in the Lord Mayor's Show in the City and last November were joined by the Handwerkskammer and made a wonderful contribution to the festivities and reinforced the connection with the City civic. If I might add that I was also pleased to be able to take part in the ceremony granting the freedom of the City of London to Herr Nikolaus Schues who was the main instigator of the Morgensprache and leading figure in the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce and is here today.  I believe that he is the first Hamburg merchant to receive the freedom. This echoes the privileges given to the Hanseatic Merchants. They were  successful because they could   trade with privileges in the City as if they were free of the City and additionally had the right to elect their own Alderman. Now the City is able to grant the freedom (but without any special privileges I am afraid) to the successors of those Hanseatic merchants.

Thus the ceremonial links remain and these are at the highest civic levels. I should add that the Hansa merchants always recognised their responsibilities as well as their privileges. They were charged with looking after the gatehouse and paying for the watch. With privilege comes responsibility which they ably discharged. Still today the City of London ensures that this happens. Obviously all businesses pay business taxes but in the City we are the only UK local authority that gives businesses a vote in the election of the Court of Common Council - that is the City's council body. No taxation without representation! Even if you are not a British citizen through nomination by your employer you can vote personally in these elections.


So does the Hanseatic trade survive?

I have found it difficult to extract detailed trading figures between cities rather than countries and so I am greatly indebted to Herr Nicholas Schues. Needless to say his figures have a Hamburg leaning. You can see the strength of the trade with the countries of the former Hanseatic League cities. Imports to Hamburg even during the last year have risen by 26.8% overall and the exports have risen by 15%.  Foreign trade over a 4 year period has doubled. This area of geographical trading is therefore still very significant.

Some examples of Hamburg businesses that have invested overseas significantly are set out on this slide and with other companies that have invested into Hamburg. They are only a small selection.  This is only to take one very active and organised Hansestadt (Hamburg)' s figures. I understand that a German businessman who has interests in the Hansa preferred to locate his new paper mill in the UK at King's Lynn because of the historic Hansa link. Well done King's Lynn to attract new business and jobs in this way.

Even if this is not especially scientific there is considerable activity in this area.  Indeed, it must be in this area that the most direct and referable lasting legacy of the Hanseatic League can be discerned.  I do not want to paint too rosy a picture of the medieval trading links.  Of course they were built on entrepreneurship and a quest for personal wealth, influence and power.  Indeed they were domineering and exclusive but if one believes in the need for trade (and surely here at Gresham College we must understand the importance of trade to the economy) then this inheritance coupled with the growth of stable and effective democratic rule is still the bedrock of our economy today.

From the viewpoint of the City of London,  the number of German merchants and banks dating back a couple of centuries  has flourished and the big names in merchant banking Kleinwort, Schroders, Rothschild, Warburg and latterly Deutsche Bank (who have now made the City of London their European capital city) speak of this. In the last 50 years, the Scandinavian banks have come here in great numbers particularly in the 1980s and most recently the major Russian Bank VTB which last month floated simultaneously on the London and Moscow stock exchange.

And the  City of London I am pleased to say  is still free and open to traders from all nations and the City's accolade as the premier international global financial City bears testimony to this openness and welcome.

On the whole the Hansa did not dabble in politics (apart from some usually disastrous wars)   They showed that trade could operate effectively and separately from the power of Kings and rulers.  I would say that the ethos that trade can go on and should be promoted separately from party politics has been a hallmark of how the City of London has operated without party political influence within its Common Council but providing the environment facilities and infrastructure required of the businesses operating within its boundaries.

So it is the forerunner of the European Union?

The grouping of cities across national and state boundaries during the Middle Ages that the Hanseatic League represented has often been held up as a model for the European Union.  In a small part I believe that can be said to be true.  However, the Hanseatic League was not a federation, there were no laws, there was no council.  Indeed it was somewhat fluid as to whether or not a particular City was a member of not - membership seemed ambiguous and cities from time to time were included or excluded.  Each city retained its own independence operated its own laws and principles and was answerable to its own mayor or local council or merchant body. Indeed they were independent cities for the most part- independent of the state in which they were located. I do not see these characteristics mirrored in the all encompassing federation that is the EU with its myriad of regulations, its somewhat rigid requirements and very clear entry barriers.  What the Hanseatic League seemed to do by way of light touch regulation and independence of operation has yet to be adopted by the EU. 

But there are elements of the way that it traded that are still of importance today in the City of London.  There was a standard of trade. 

The name Stalhof which is usually translated as steelyard in English does not refer to steel in the modern sense but is thought to refer to the small steel seal of approval that was attached to cloth that had been approved as being of the right quality.  The  Stahlen which was affixed to cloth in the trading with the Hansa merchants meant that you had assurance of a high standard of quality goods that had reached a certain benchmark.  As I have said, there were no laws that bound the merchants or regulations that were imposed on their way of trading but business was carried out on the basis of good standards, moral statements and commitment to trade in a proper manner.  I have heard it said that businesses such as re-insurance still survive on such "gentlemanly" ways of working and dealing.  (But I am glad to say that my law firm still has numerous legal suits arising from re-insurance contracts so lawyers do need to be involved at some stage.)  However it is clear that although the law is required (usually too frequently) to enforce obligations, there is still a code of dealing in the City coupled with the Lloyd's saying of "my word is my bond" which is so important to the integrity of city business.

We can look to the Hansa to see the start of the structures of trade finance, commercial lending, insurance and private banking. Although set up for the use of the physical trade of goods the same structures now operate to deal with the financial instruments and trading that typifies the City of London's business operation  today. Whilst outsiders can vilify the City as a casino of  high stakes with no physical outcomes what in effect it does is provide liquidity in the capital markets and allow the risk to be spread which ensures that the insurance, maritime, aviation and commodity worlds can operate with some stability despite other global pressures.


It  was quite usual for merchants to be sent out from the major Hanseatic cities to the  foreign counters or Kontore in order to man the trading from that location.  Such secondments would be required for a minimum of one year, partly because of the time it took to sail between each of the relevant cities, and it was usually appropriate that the secondee should be a married man of good reputation.  Such  Kontores existed at Bergen, Bruges, Novgorod and London.  Was this the start of the very popular secondments that international businesses follow today? In my experience it is not usually the good solid married men of long-standing but perhaps more usually the young singles who wish to cut their teeth away from the home base.  But the underlying reputation of the merchant is of paramount importance now as it was then.

City states

We must not forget that the Hanseatic cities were, on the whole, independent city states and so for the reasons I have mentioned do not have their exact equivalent today although I would argue that it was the strength and success of Hansa which gave the particular cities such positions of strength. You might say that they were forerunners of the "think local-act global " tag.  I am sure that many of us would argue that our own home cities have still a superiority and independence.  Those of us living or working in the City of London will certainly consider that we are perhaps superior or more important than the rest of the country in which we sit.  The City of London has such a reputation which can be good or bad.  It is easy to criticise the "fat cats" of the City with their large city bonuses and their lack of touch with reality.  The people of Hansestadt Hamburg are said to be equally proud of their heritage and certainly the political system operating in Germany would seem to give them considerable independence with their own chamber of commerce and control over businesses within their City.  Hamburg has its own representative office in China although I should add that the City of London has now had one for the last couple of years.  Such, is the pre-eminence of the trade links between those two Cities be it of London or Hamburg that they need separate and specific business and trade representation abroad over and above what the State may have by way of  a trade consul or UKTI.. 

Lifting horizons

Did the existence of the Hansa merchants as purveyors of trade from many exotic places give the people of the City a taste of something far off and lift their horizons beyond the every day and mundane? Did this inspire the desire for travel and for trade beyond boundaries and without hindrance? The drive to be a seafaring nation and conquer and explore might have had the seeds in these merchants who showed the people of London what could happen.

If you have thought that I am travelling down some whimsical fancy of this supposed lasting legacy in order simply to fill my allotted time then let me assure you that I have left to the last the tangible organisations exist today.

Hanseatic Parliament

This is the first of two modern day institutions that have been founded and which very much build on the use of the name Hanseatic and the ethos for which it stood.  The Hanseatic parliament was founded in 2004 and the original members were more than 30 chambers of commerce and industry and chambers of skilled crafts and other institutions who promote small and medium sized businesses from all of the Baltic Sea countries.  It was actually founded in St Petersburg which was as far as I am aware not a Hanseatic city but encompasses Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Russia, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark.  Its goal is to help make north eastern Europe an economic area which improves the situation of SMEs and its tasks are to strengthen the economic competitiveness of the Baltic Sea region,  to support SMEs and the skilled crafts,  to promote vocational training, and excellence in the education of businessmen and executives of SMEs so as to provide a system of education and training and further the economic and cultural development of the region of the Baltic Sea.  It conducts joint events such as congresses, seminars and trade fairs.  It is based in Hamburg and is part-funded by the European Union regional development fund.  Indeed there is a conference that starts today in Hamburg and runs for 3 days in conjunction with the University of Hamburg.  I detect from the theme that the conference will show how much it is using the historic background of the Hanseatic league to propel forward the economic future of this area.  I quote "during the period of the historic Hanseatic League, the Baltic Sea region was one of the most innovative and best performing regions in the world.  Today, a unified Baltic Sea region is once again being afforded the opportunity to become an innovative and strong world class region" and so the 3 parts of the conference are to look at how they can learn from history to see how knowledge transfer and innovation within the craft trades and commerce was dealt with, to obtain an accurate picture of the present and carry out a survey and then to shape the future to look at opportunities and threats and work on ways of going forward.  Obviously it is much more structured and goes much much further than the Hanseatic League of old and indeed the training programme with the awarding of diplomas or degrees that would be recognised within the region will be a way of building up that transfer of knowledge and a benchmark of learning.  And can I just add to the City folks that being an SME is not small and insignificant at all. Over 50% on the businesses in the City are SMEs and provide a large part of the City's economies


The other considerable organisation today is the modern Hansa or the Hansa guild.  This was set up in 1980 in the Dutch city of Zwolle and has encouraged over 200 cities to become members.  The purpose of the Hansa guild is "to contribute to the economic cultural social and national unity of Europe and to enhance the self-awareness of the cities and municipalities  so that they can play their part as a place of living democracy".  It carries out various meetings at regional and international levels and holds conventions and supports campaigns to promote the concept of the Hansa among the general public, it promotes the exchange of cultural and traditional matters and strengthens economic and trading contacts and enhances the exchange of knowledge, social viewpoint and information.  It supports various individual Hansa projects.  The convention is held each year in one of the Hansa cities and was held this year in Lippstadt in May.  These are called Hansa Days or Hansetage. Indeed there is a general encouragement to treat 19 May as a new Hanseatic Day. It takes a different theme each year and this year it was Miteinander Handeln or translated means "Dealing with each other" or "Acting together".  This honours the interaction of those involved in the medieval Hanseatic League dealing with politics, economics and culture.  The convention took place over 3 days and included various events including an economic summit and other more cultural matters such as a market, music and plays.  A significant element of the association is to encourage YouthHansa in order to encourage cooperation and involvement between the young people of the participating countries.  You might be interested to know that the City of London is not a member but both Kings Lynn and Aberdeen are. It was through this link that the King's Lynn paper mill was fostered.

What is interesting from both of these groups is that they build on the City states- they want to co-operate at the lowest level and not via the sometimes overregulated and slow national and EU strategies.

Further we should not decry the Hanse Guild which has been predominantly a tourist and cultural link and only latterly has the business programme built up to be a parallel and useful liaison. The merchants in the Stalhof were not averse to visits by artists, painters and musicians.  In particular, Hans Holbein was very popular among the Hanseatic merchants and painted several of them - some of whom we could see at the recent Holbein exhibition at Tate Britain.  Indeed Holbein was commissioned by the Hanseatic merchants to design a triumphal arch for the celebration of the wedding of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn and that drawing was on show at that exhibition as well. Thus it  is not inappropriate for the Hanseatic celebrations today to include those cultural links which are so important in establishing friendships across the nations. And we must not forget the example they give of merchants giving back to society through the arts and music from the wealth that they have generated through their trade.


The Hanseatic League did not survive - it was constantly changing and reinventing itself and eventually declined. Not everything is worth saving. There were bad bits as well as positive attributes. Emotional and irrational labels and ideas live on for reasons which are sometimes totally unconnected with the original purpose.  For example the giving away of Maundy Money, the Knights of the Garter but we have learnt and can learn more about international cooperation through trade and this is a sure and important way to prevent war and increase prosperity. Welcoming  workers and traders from overseas almost always pays dividends and benefits and is not a threat. Where people naturally have a common interest which may or may not be enhanced by common geographical social language or other links this is likely to make trading easier and more beneficial. Building bridges be they trade and business, cultural, artistic or of friendship are all worth cultivating for our better future.


©Alderman, Alison Gowman  Gresham College, 14 June 2007









Professor Tim Connell




So today's Symposium simply goes to show that in practice terms and conditions of trade never change.



The following factors need to be present:

-          Something someone wants to buy -          Something someone has to sell -          The right price -          Demand in the home market at each end -          Safe transport -          Secure warehousing -          Reliable suppliers -          Agreed systems for credit and payment.

The Hanseatic League provided the services that we would expect today from banks, chambers of commerce and government export departments, and in some ways is the forerunner of an expanded European Union.[xvi]

Today we have looked at the Geography of the region in terms of its History, with cities that no longer exist, states that have changed their shape several times even within living memory and where borders are beginning to be of lesser significance. What in the post-War period has been a remote and rather hidden part of the Continent is now coming to the fore as part of an expanded Europe. Recent (and convincing) proof of that is the re-emergence of the Baltic States as a power to be reckoned with, not least in the Eurovision Song Contest...



[i] Thomas Pownell in Archaeologia, 1778. I know this is true as my Grandfather had one of the pots, in such good condition that you could read the maker's name on the underneath. Samian ware came mainly from along the River Rhone, in the vicinity of modern-day Clermont-Ferrand.

[ii] A contemporary audience would have recognised him from these actions as a mercenary, a member of the notorious White Company. He was in fact anything but a parfit gentil knyghte... See Chaucer's Knight,Methuen 1994 by ex-Python Terry Jones.

[iii] Again, these cross-border raids were far from chivalrous.

[iv] Oddly enough, the Battle on the Ice was filmed outside Moscow in a heatwave in June 1938.

See N Swallow (1976) Eisenstein, a documentary portrait, George Allen & Unwin.

[v] For more on the Great Northern War see

[vii] All three, like Birka, are world heritage sites:




[viii] For more on the Staple and the trade in East Anglia, see

[x] One difficulty in tracing the Hanse in London is that documents can be in a variety of languages, and both the Hanse and the merchants are referred to variously as Easterlings,  homines et cives Colonienses, or even Homines Imperatoris qui veniebant in navibus suis. The Steelyard appears variously as EsterlingeshalleLe SteelyerdeStyleyardStiliardeand even the Haus zu Calner.

[xi] And Gresham, of course, died in 1579.

[xii] This was on the site of  Holy Trinity the Less. (See Note 9 above.)  Nowadays, of course, German-speaking Lutherans may attend services at the Church of St Agnes and St Anne.

[xiii] A picture of the Steelyard in 1540, from Van Wyngard's Plan for Philip II of Spain, is to be seen at on page 31.

[xiv] The Muscovy Company flourished until 1698 and was not finally wound up until 1917.

[xv] Elizabeth I actually appears as a character in the Eisenstein film ofIvan the Terrible (1944.)

[xvi]For details of the ECGD see

For UKTI see

For the German-British Chamber of Commerce see


A note on the Steelyard

So why was this area referred to as the Steelyard? It is clearly a translation of the German stalhof, but a steelyard was a type of balance hung from a roof beam to weight heavy goods. It is possible that one of these contraptions was located there. An actual steelyard, inscribed 'Thomas Gresham, London' and dated 1572 is in the possession of the Museum of London.

It is also possible that the term actually comes from another source, such as Stoilgeld, (Latin Stallagium, French étalage) being the tax levied on market stalls. (See Note 9 above.)


                                                                        ©Professor Tim Connell, Gresham College, 14 June 2007