Signets of Power: Privateers

Artikler

Since the earliest times, attacks at sea and the looting of merchant ships and cargo ships have gone hand in hand with water transport. The pirates operated from quick and manoeuvrable ships, but did not just keep to attacking vessels on open waters. They often went ashore in order to loot provisions and attack the bulging stock of goods at the harbours. Piracy increased in line with the upturn in trade in the High Middle Ages, until the State became strong enough during the Late Middle Ages to limit and finally stop it. At the same time, a more organized type of piracy gained a footing as a weapon in the complicated, high political power plays of the time.  

The Victual Brothers and Queen Margaret I

Where the purpose of piracy previously had been personal gain for the pirates, during the Late Middle Ages, it was organized and used as a weapon in the complicated power plays between Lords and the Market Towns. Pirates were issued a Letter of Marque and Reprisal, which allowed them to attack the merchant ships of the Lords’ opponents and thus weaken them financially.

One of the most famous organizations of privateers was the Victual Brothers, who in the late 1300s commanded around 2000 men and more than 100 vessels. In the fights for power in the North between Queen Margrethe I and the Lords of Mecklenburg, the pirates started out supporting the Mecklenburgers. Later, they collaborated with Danish magnates close to the Queen, and in the end, they turned to proper piracy, attacking everything and everyone.

Without supporting them herself, Queen Margrethe I managed to use the pirates politically against the Hanseatic cities, to her own advantage. Only after achieving her political goals, the Queen turned to actively fighting the pirates, who were driven out of the Baltic Sea in 1396. However, they continued pirating in the North Sea, where the Hanseatic cities had to endure them for a number of years – the most famous of these pirates was Klaus Störtebeker, who was only captured and executed in 1401.

Eric of Pomerania fought for many years to wipe out piracy in the Baltic Sea, but after he was driven out of the northern realms during the years 1439-41, he himself became an active pirate working out of Gotland.

Privateering during the reign of King Hans

From the mid 15th century and until the Reformation, trade politics, private feuds, high politics, piracy and privateering were inextricably connected, especially in connection with King Hans’ efforts to weaken the Hanseatic League or make them take part in his plans of union policy. Officially, King Hans disavowed piracy, but in practice, he allowed and encouraged the privateering, which his cousin, Jacob of Oldenburg, carried out.

Since then, piracy also played a role during the struggle of the ousted King Christian II to regain his kingdoms, as Christian II equipped privateers under Skipper Clement and Søren Norby, which were to attack ships and ruin trade for the King’s enemies. Only during the reign of Christian III and Frederik II, the Crown succeeded in really restricting the piracy.

The fight against pirates under distant skies

During the absolute monarchy, navy squadrons were sent to the Mediterranean Sea multiple times in order to fight the North African pirates, who attacked Danish ships and enslaved the sailors. Denmark entered into several peace agreements with Morocco, Algeria, Tunis and Tripoli, but these agreements were fragile and in 1770-72, the Danes had to turn to bombing Algiers as well as blocking the city in order to get the local ruler to toe the line. Similar situations occurred with Tripoli in 1796-97 and Algiers and Tunis in 1800-1801.

In recent years, Danish ships have taken part in fighting pirates in the Gulf of Aden and off the east coast of Somalia since 2008.

Om artiklen

Forfatter(e)
Stefan Pajung
Tidsafgrænsning
700 -
Medietype
Tekst
Sidst redigeret
19. marts 2019
Sprog
Engelsk
Litteratur

Bøgh, Anders: Sejren i kvindens hånd: Kampen om magten i Norden ca. 1365-1389 (2003).

Olsen, Olaf: Ufredens hav (2002).

Jespersen, Knud J. V. og Frandsen, Ole L. (red.): Danmarks krigshistorie (2010)

Udgiver
danmarkshistorien.dk

Om artiklen

Forfatter(e)
Stefan Pajung
Tidsafgrænsning
700 -
Medietype
Tekst
Sidst redigeret
19. marts 2019
Sprog
Engelsk
Litteratur

Bøgh, Anders: Sejren i kvindens hånd: Kampen om magten i Norden ca. 1365-1389 (2003).

Olsen, Olaf: Ufredens hav (2002).

Jespersen, Knud J. V. og Frandsen, Ole L. (red.): Danmarks krigshistorie (2010)

Udgiver
danmarkshistorien.dk