“English merchants in cities of Teutonic Order State”, by Aleksandra Girsztowt, University of Gdańsk

Today we have a special update for you! Aleksandra, who is doing her PhD at the University of Gdańsk has been very generous and provided us with the paper she wrote for the Kings & Queens 2 Conference, which took place at the University of Winchester this summer. So here you go. We hope you like it.

Aleksandra is also involved in the Conference “Origines et mutationes circa principio Mare Balticum”, that takes place in September 2014. For more information here you have the conference Facebook page



English merchants in cities of Teutonic Order State, by Aleksandra Girsztowt, University of Gdańsk.

The first issue we should consider is answering the question of what exactly was the Hanseatic League, the confederation which played an enormous role in the economic situation of Europe between the 12th and the 17th centuries. The League was initially conceived as an organization protecting the interests of Lubeck merchants. We should also stress that in the beginning it was a confederation of traders, not cities. With times the Lubeck traders were joined by others – from Rostock, Wismar, Stralsund or Kolberg. The increase in the members of the organization changed it from a confederation of merchants into a confederation of cities steered by the merchants. It was then when the League took the duty of representing the member cities onto itself and began to struggle even more for keeping of privileges and monopolies already granted to its members.

While the main city of the League, Lubeck, was connected to Denmark, Gdańsk and Elbląg – the cities which were most active in their relations with England – were Prussian. Initially Elbląg was more important in contacts with England. It was the major harbor of the Teutonic Order, and as such it enjoyed authorities’ significant backing. Apart from England, Elbąg’s merchants reached the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Spain and Flanders as well; they often traded English wool in the latter one. Elbląg began to lose its significance in the middle of the 14th century, when Gdańsk – captured by The Order in 1308 – began to develop intensively and became the major harbor of the country.

Documented trade relations between Elbląg and England can be traced to 1293, to the document of King Edward II issued in August 1310 in Northampton. Merchants from Elbląg brought mainly hides, furs, wax, wood, grain, potash and honey to the British Isles and they took fabrics back with them. In the beginning of the contacts between the League and England, that is in the beginning of the 14th century, Eastern European traders enjoyed strong support of the kings. The already mentioned document of Edward II from 1310, in which the king orders to release Elbląg traders held captive in Boston – Eberard de Witte, Heinrich Longisbrothe and Wilhelm Rodmanna – shows that members of the League could count on royal support in case of arguments.

Trade contacts between England and Elbląg were not limited to the presence of the League’s members in the British Isles. British merchants were equally numerous and often guests in the major cities of the Teutonic Order, and the traces of their presence are still visible in Gdańsk’s topography (house of English merchants, districts Stare i Nowe Szkoty – Old and New Scots). The beginning of English merchant’s activity in Prussian cities dates back to the middle of the 14th century. Their heavy investment in trade, mainly of fabrics, brought about the conflict which had to be resolved by king Richard II. The conflict was brewing for a few years and was sparked by king Edward’s II attempts to make the privileges of English merchants equal to those enjoyed by the locals. In 1375 negotiations were conducted with him by Elbląg’s emissary on behalf of the English kontor. The talks ended with the League’s refusal to make the privileges equal. As we can see, the

talks were not conducted on the state level, with ambassadors of the countries where the League’s cities were located, but directly between the king and the organization. The conflict was additionally intensified by the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order Winrych von Kniprode, who forbade the English to use Prussian harbors other than Elbląg. That significantly limited the possibility of trade and caused disgruntlement which caused street riots. After several scuffles and the killing of an English cloth merchant which took place in Elbląg king Richard II intervened. His involvement caused English kontor to be moved from Elbląg to Gdańsk.

It didn’t mean the end of English merchants’ activity in that city – in 1397 the citizens of Elbląg complained about unfair competition from English cloth merchants to the Grand Master. The brewing conflict led to s situation when in 1402 the Grand Master issued the law which banned importing English cloth inland. Any person caught doing so would lose the cloth, which would be forwarded to the komtur in Gdańsk. This law was intended to reinforce the earlier – notoriously breached – legislation from 1385, which made Elbląg the only city to be allowed to trade in English cloth. Rising tension between the Teutonic Order League’s cities and England caused by circumventing the abovementioned laws caused urged the Great Master to intervene and break off the deals with England. What followed was the complete suspension of trade between England and the Teutonic Order. The conflict reached such heights that it affected not only economy, but also personal lives – in 1404 the English were forbidden to marry women from the Teutonic Order territories. An agreement was not reached until 1409. However, complaints about English traders were still showing up, this time concerning also other articles than cloth. And so, in 1428 on the gathering of Prussian cities the representatives of Gdańsk complained about unfair English business practices. The problematic issue was the size of barrels in which the English brought herrings into Gdańsk. According to Gdańsk merchants they were too small in comparison with their declared size, which made English merchants profit dishonestly.

The Grand Master, just like the English king, granted foreign merchants rights and privileges. When it comes to English merchants in particular we have some information in our sources. In 1428 the head of the order allowed them free trade, judiciary freedom and – what is important – gave them a right to file complaints against local merchants or city officials directly to the Grand Master.

It was also stressed that they had the same right as any other guests and visitors and should be treated the same as people coming from places other than England. When the importance of English merchants was increasing, they began to demand more privileges. In 1434 a group of the English appeared before the Grand Master asking for treating the equally with the citizens of the region. That, of course, stood against the rules of the Teutonic Order and the merchants were denied. Additionally, they were reminded that all foreigners are to be treated equally, and therefore there would be no special privileges for the English.

Relations between the Hanseatic League and the countries with which it conducted business were ever-changing. The League tried to win as many privileges and monopolies for its merchants and wanted to make the job of traders who visited them more complicated. To defend their own interest they were ready to wage wars and attempt kingmaking if they had a favored candidate. Their attitude oftentimes spurred kings to get involved to defend their own merchants.


We would like to thank Aleksandra for her paper and to wish her the best luck with her research 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s