Episode 124– Decline & Fall (Part 2)

1531-1535, a period of just 4 years is enough to capsize Lübeck’s position as the diplomatic heart of the Baltic Sea, general secretary of the Hanse, ally of both the king of Denmark and the king of Sweden and early member of the Schmalkaldic League. How can that happen?

As Edward Gibbon would say: History, in fact, is no more than a list of crimes of humanity, human follies and accidents”.

Hello and welcome to the History of the Germans: Episode 124 – Decline and Fall (Part 2)

1531-1535, a period of just 4 years is enough to capsize Lübeck’s position as the diplomatic heart of the Baltic Sea, general secretary of the Hanse, ally of both the king of Denmark and the king of Sweden and early member of the Schmalkaldic League. How can that happen?

As Edward Gibbon would say: History, in fact, is no more than a list of crimes of humanity, human follies and accidents”.

But before we start, enjoy this moment of Zen when you are undisturbed by your presenter extolling the benefits of online mental health services, recruitment companies or beard trimmers.  I am unsure what is more painful, the humiliation of the presenter pretending to like things he or she is clearly never going to use or the embarrassment of hearing someone who you have grown to respect debasing himself or herself. Luckily that does not happen here on the History of the Germans. istoruy of the  This podcast is entirety funded by the generosity of our patrons who have signed up on Patreon.com/historyofthegermans or on my website, historyofthegermans.com/support. And thanks a lot to Kevin C, Carl T, Tim B, Carlos Alonso C. and his son Eduardo A, for his patience or, should I say, lack of it. I suppose it would be easier to draw attention from youngsters if I discussed modern day German kaisers, like Tony Kroos”.

Last week we surveyed the lay of the land in the early 16th century in preparation for the dramatic events that led to the fall of Lübeck from queen of the Baltic to wealthy but ultimately no longer significant imperial free city.

And as we are squatting in the 16th century, we should do as the Romans do, which can only mean that this episode should take the structure of a Shakespearian tragedy with a sheer innumerable set of characters, complex plotline a dazzling switch around of locations.

Let’s begin with the dramatis personae:

The Lübecker

Jürgen Wullenwever, moderately successful merchant, by force of circumstance and oratory the de facto ruler of the city of Lübeck – protestant.

Marx Meier, former smith, now commander of the army and navy of Lübeck, a sharp dresser, protestant

The Danes

Ex-King Christian II, perpetrator of the Stockholm Bloodbath, Exile in the Low Countries, brother-in-law of the emperor Charles V. Catholic for political reasons only.

Frederick I king of Denmark and Norway. Successor of Christian II and current ruler thanks to election by the Danish Council of the Realm and support the city of Lübeck. Catholic but lenient on the spread of Protestantism.

Christian, count of Holstein and duke of Schleswig. Son of Frederick I. Ardent protestant.

John, younger son of Frederick I, a minor

Christopher, Count of Oldenburg, a mercenary general, distantly related to the Danish royal house.

Other Princes

Charles V, ruler of Spain, Austria and the Low countries, Holy Roman Emperor and master of an empire where the sun never sets. Brother-in-Law of Christian II. Ardent Catholic

Gustav Vasa, leader of the Swedish revolt against Danish rule following the Stockholm Bloodbath. Now King. Owes his crown and a lot of money to Lübeck. Protestant

Duke Albrecht of Mecklenburg, prince, catholic

Henry VIII, King of England

Act 1, Scene 1,

Summer of 1531, Schloss Gottorp, Schleswig-Holstein, favourite residence of king Frederick I.

News arrive that Christian II, the ex-king of Denmark and Norway after 8 years of plotting and scheming has finally convinced his brother-in-law, the emperor Charles V to give him an army to regain his crown. Initial reports indicate Christian had hired about 6-7,000 mercenaries in Northern Germany and was negotiating with the merchants of Amsterdam over the shipping to Denmark.

Frederick I is concerned about this, not just because of the size of the army that is about to be unleashed, but also because he knows Christian still has support in Denmark. Christian II had aggressively suppressed the nobility, which endeared him to the peasants and even to a degree the burghers of the major cities, Copenhagen and Malmo.

Frederick I deploys his army to Jutland, where he believes his nephew will land his troop and kick off the peasant rebellion.

And he searches far and wide for allies in this struggle. He tries to convince the emperor and the Dutch to abandon Christian II whose catholic convictions he argues are paper thin and who had proven to be a brutal tyrant. But as a plan B, he looks for direct naval support. There is a Danish navy now, but still vastly inferior to the forces of the Hanse and the Dutch. So, he writes to the various Hanseatic cities asking for help.

The response he gets is broadly positive. Lübeck under its new populist ruler, Jürgen Wullenwever is most supportive. They promise to send a fleet in exchange for restraints on Dutch shipping through the Oresund.

Messengers are going back and forth between Gottorp and Lübeck as both sides try to hammer out a deal.

Act 1 Scene 2,

October 24th,1531 the flagship of Christian II heading out of the port of Amsterdam.

Christian II has indeed indeed mustered an army of 7,000 German mercenaries, the legendary Landsknechte. The city of Amsterdam, pressured by their overlord, the emperor Charles V, have given him a dozen or so ships to bring his troops across to Denmark.

Christian II, for all his faults was no fool. He knew that his uncle had garrisoned all the major towns and fortresses in Jutland and that an attack there, this late in the year would be doomed to failure, even if the peasants would rise up for him.

Once the ships were out of Amsterdam, Christian II revealed his grand plan. Not to Denmark, but to Norway, specifically to the Norwegian capital Oslo was their convoy to go. Instead of a 300 mile sail to Jutland, they were now meant to go nearly twice as far and far out into the North Sea.

The Dutch sailors were anything but best pleased about this change of plan. But they were out at sea with 7,000 armed men, so they went along with it.

But they did not have to go far. The autumn storms that regularly batter the North Sea in October and November hit them on day 2 of the journey. The fleet split up and ships were blown far and wide. Some returned home quickly, others sought refuge in English ports but many sank, including the ship that carried the soldiers wages. As the storm raged the captains had to order the heavy cannons to be thrown overboard, so that the 4 ships and 1,000 men who made it to Oslo at the beginning of November arrived without money and without siege weapons.

But the burghers of Oslo welcomed him warmly. They had little love for Frederick I who had never bothered even to visit his Norwegian kingdom. And Norway was still staunchly catholic growing concerned about the spread of the Lutheran ideas across Denmark and the Baltic. So, on November 29 1531, Christian II was crowned king of Norway.

That was nice, but he did not control much of Norway beyond Oslo. Without cannon and just a sixth of his original force, Christian had no chance to dislodge the garrisons of the main castles in Norway.

But otherwise, he was in good shape. He had a major bridgehead in his lost kingdoms. Winter was coming and that meant any form of retaliation by the Danes would have to wait until the spring. That was enough time for the emperor Charles back in the Low Countries to muster another army and send them across to resume the original plan.

Act 1, Scene 3

March 1532, Copenhagen

Frederick I had been completely surprised and shocked by Christian’s daring move on Norway. He now needed the help of the Hanse cities even more than before. Their navies were the only ones who could prevent a landing of imperial troops in Norway. And he needed them to bring his own forces across to besiege Oslo and capture his obstinate nephew.

So, he invited representatives of the major Hanse cities to Copenhagen to discuss terms for their support. Lübeck, Wismar, Rostock, Stralsund, Danzig and the Livonians all showed up. The leader of Lübeck, Juergen Wullenwever dominated the discussions. He insisted that any major support would be predicated on a Danish commitment to close the Oresund to Dutch shipping.

The Hansards lined up behind the Lübeck position but insisted that they have privileges of free passage for themselves and all their wares. Wullenwever does not support these proposals. In fact, he gets increasingly insistent that traffic through the Oresund should be constrained as far as possible. Wullenwever thought he smelled a rat. If for instance Danzig has free transport rights across the Oresund, what stops their Dutch associates from hoisting the Danzig flag as they approach Helsingborg, pretending they are sailing on behalf of a Hanse merchant.

The other cities too believe there are darker forces at work. As they see it, Lübeck wants as little traffic through the Oresund as possible because that traffic would then have to go via their own harbour and the river route to Hamburg and out from there.

Frederick I gets more and more exasperated with the debates and delays. He needs the Hanse navies now or it would be too late.

By early May the other Hansards leave the negotiations as they cannot see how any of this could come to a fruitful conclusion.

Only Lubeck is left at the negotiation table. Frederick I is forced to concede a full blockade of all Dutch shipping, no ifs no buts in exchange for the city’s help. Wullenwever scored his first great diplomatic victory.

Act 1, scene 4

May 1532, Schloss Gottorp, The secret office of Frederick I

Frederick I is not just exasperated but also a much better tactician than our blustering friend Wullenwever.

All throughout this period Frederick had remained in touch with Charles V and the Dutch, looking for a way to reconcile their differences. And now that had become even more urgent.

Lübeck’s demands had been completely impossible to agree to. The toll on the Oresund and the trade in Copenhagen and Malmo that was associated with it were the main sources of income for the Danish crown. Closing the Oresund, pretty much for everyone would have been economic suicide for the kingdom. No Danish king could ever agree to such conditions. And Frederick I hadn’t, at least not in writing. And he had always made clear that any such commitment would require the consent of the Council of the Realm.

So legally Frederick I was able to do what he did. He made a deal with the Dutch. In exchange for them withdrawing support for Christian II, he would keep the Oresund open for their shipping. That deal meant there were no imperial troops coming across to support Christian II in Norway.

Act 1, Scene 5

Summer 1532, the Kattegat

Wullenwever and his great warrior friend, Marx Meier did not know anything about the deal Frederick I had made with the Dutch – obviously.

So, the navy of Lubeck crosses the Oresund and sets up the blockade of Oslo. And they bring the 6,000 troops in the pay of Frederick I across. There was a bit of fighting back and forth, but on July 1st Christian II accepted defeat. He was offered safe passage and boarded a ship for Denmark. There he was immediately arrested and put in jail in Sonderburg castle. The Danish succession crisis was over.

Act 1, Scene 6

Late summer 1532, Lübeck, the office of Jurgen Wullenwever

Success in war would usually results in celebrations and given Lübeck’s role in the wine and beer trade these could have been quite fun. But I am afraid the finest Sancerre Wullenwever was gulping down at the festivities got stuck in his throat when his captains told him that they saw many a Dutch ship sailing unimpeded past the great fortresses of Helsingborg and Helsingor. 

It became clear that Frederick I had tricked him, it also became clear that there was little he could do about it. Frederick I was firmly back in control of Denmark and Sweden. Christian II was in jail and the emperor had lost interest in the Scandinavian mess.

Wullenwever was nothing if not stubborn. The Dutch were the cause of the decline of Lubeck’s fortunes. Therefore the Dutch had to be thrown out of the Baltic and if nobody was going to help, then it would be Lubeck on its own that would do the deed, cost what it may.

A war intended not just to harass Dutch trade but to bring it to a complete halt meant it wasn’t enough just to send out privateers to capture Dutch ships. Privateers are businessmen who would make rational calculations about the risk and return of attacking a large, well-armed Dutch merchantman.

What Wullenweber wanted was to attack all the Dutch ships, including the large merchantmen, including the convoys and even including their large warships. We are now in a period where we have purpose-built warships carrying cannons. If you want to see an impressive example go to Portsmouth marine dockyards and visit the Mary Rose, launched in 1511 and able to fire a broadside with its 78+ guns. 

If Lübeck wanted to attack those, they needed their own warships and navy commanders who attacked not for profit but for glory. And these were expensive.

Fortunately, the treasury of the city of Lübeck had recently been replenished with all the gold and silver from the church decorations. That popish frippery amounted to 48 tons in total, enough to keep the war going for a while.

Act 1, Scene 7

Stockholm, the Royal Palace

As so often, at the end of the money there was still a lot of war left. 48 tons of gold and silver sound a lot, but even that can run out quickly when waging major naval operations. Wullenwever needed other sources of cash. And guess what, there was one.

You remember Gustav Vasa, king of Sweden. When he was fighting for his crown in 1522, he had called upon the city of Lübeck for help, help they were willing to provide, but at a price. That price had not yet  been paid, largely because Sweden was a mess of smouldering ruins and slaughtered civilians after Christian II’s invasion.

But now, 8 years later, sure Gustav Vasa could pay them back. Wullenwever in his famously diplomatic manner, wrote a harsh letter to Gustav Vasa asking for his cash – now.

The Vasa family are famous for their temper and Gustav was no exception. Getting a condescending letter from a grubby merchant asking for money was just the thing that could send Gustav Vasa into a rage. And rage he did. Instead of sending money to Lübeck he ordered all their privileges in Sweden revoked and opened his harbours to Dutch shipping.

And that is the End of Act 1

Just look at how far we have travelled in these just 36 months. At the start of the play, Lübeck had it all. The king of Denmark and the King of Sweden were friends, owed them their crown and were firm allies. The Hanse was functioning as a coordination mechanism commanding at least some basic loyalty between the cities. Now all these relationships have become fragile, teetering on the verge of open hostility.

Let’s start Act 2 and see what Wullenwever can do to turn it all around.

Act 2, Scene 1

April 10, 1533, Schloss Gottorp

Frederick I, 61 years of age, victorious in the struggle with Christian II lay dying.

BY his bedside are his two sons. The oldest was Christian, duke of Schleswig-Holstein, 30 years old. He had been at the diet of Worms and had heard Martin Luther speak. And he liked what he heard. He introduced the new faith in his lands and made Lutheranism the state religion in Schleswig Holstein in 1528.

The younger was John, just 12 years old and so far, a blank Canvas.

The Danish Council of the Realm did not want Christian the protestant duke of Schleswig Holstein to succeed his father. The members of the council were of the highest nobility in Denmark and wanted to retain the old faith if not for reasons of theology, then because their younger brothers were the bishops and the abbots of the rich monasteries. But if Christian of Schleswig-Holstein was out, who should be king.

They would have elevated little John, who with a bit of encouragement could be made a good Catholic. But that wasn’t easy given the boy’s formidable mother and his older brother both of whom could have demanded guardianship over little John.

So, the council decided to go it alone. Denmark was not to have a king at least until John was grown up.

Act 2, Scene 2

Late spring 1533, Lübeck, Offices of Jurgen Wullenwever

The death of king Frederick I, the man who had double-crossed him was the second bit of good news for Wullenwever. The other was that he had finally been formally elevated to Burgomaster.

What made it even better was that the death of the old monarch came with a neat little succession crisis built-in. Clearly the ardent protestant Christian of Schleswig-Holstein would not allow the Danish Royal Council to bypass him and put a catholic pretender on the throne in his stead.

Christian must be a natural ally of the city of Lübeck.  This would frankly not be the first time the city on the Trave had selected a Scandinavian ruler.

But Christian did not respond to Wullenwever’s letters. No, he made it abundantly clear that he would rather forsake the crown of Denmark than owe it to Wullenwever and the city of Lübeck.

Wullenwever could not understand why Christian was so adamant. He offered him his crown and he was a protestant to boot.

What was it that stopped Christian from asking for Lübeck’s support? Did he regard Wullenwever as an untrustworthy oik who behaved like an elephant in the proverbial China shop? Possibly.

But most importantly, what Wullenwever had again not understood was that no Danish ruler could ever accept the price of his support, a closure of the Oresund for most shipping. Any king who did that would be removed after a short period, because without the tolls from the Oresund there was no money in the Danish treasury and so no chance to keep this unruly kingdom together.

Act 2, Scene 3

Summer of 1533, The city of Rye, England

Whilst all this is going down, the war against the Dutch was still raging. The fight had moved beyond the Baltic and disrupted shipping all over the North Sea.

Marx Meier who had made his first appearance as a mercenary in the army that fought king Christian II in Norway had now risen to the command of one of Lübeck’s largest warships in the North Sea.

Fortuna had been smiling on him, and Marx Meier had managed to capture a Spanish and two Dutch ships. But now he had run out of food and drink. So, he decided to go into the harbour of Rye on the South Coast of England.

Swollen with pride over his success he entered the town on horseback with his men all wearing the fanciest clothes he had taken from the captured enemy ships. It took little time for the citizens of Rye to find out that what these privateers were wearing were mainly English rather than Dutch or Spanish goods. Marx Meier was arrested and brought to the Tower in London.

The Hanse merchants in the Steelyard intervened with king Henry VIII on Meier’s behalf and the king asked to see this man. We are in the year 1533 which for you English listeners is the year when Henry VIII officially married and crowned Anne Boleyn which kicked off the Reformation in England.

Marx Meier, representative of a Protestant power in the Baltic that was at war with the subjects of the emperor Charles V, who was his enemy, suddenly seemed more useful at court than in jail. Moreover, Marx Meier is a man who likes to dress up and to party, something that endeared him to that massive codpiece that was Henry VIII.

By the end of the year Meier returns to Lübeck claiming to have made an ally in England and that things should brighten up soon.

Act 2, Scene 4

Early 1534, Schleswig Holstein

Marx Meier wasn’t a man hanging about doing nothing. The whole winter of 1533/34 he was devising plans how to foster Lübeck’s position. And he came up with the possibly worst one imaginable.

As soon as the weather allowed, Meier with a small contingent of soldiers headed out to Schleswig Holstein, the lands of count Christian and engaged in the usual plundering, raping and pillaging.

That was the last nail in the coffin of a potential alliance between Christian and the free and imperial city.

Act 2, Scene 5

Spring 1534, Hamburg

Despite the splendid adventures of Marx Meier in London, the naval campaign against the Dutch was going badly. The whole thing was extraordinarily expensive, and the city had run out of money. Plus the merchants of Lübeck had to watch their fellow Hansards from Danzig and Livonia doing great business in Flanders whilst they were banned from going there. Even Hamburg, usually joined at the hip with Lübeck refused to participate in the Dutch embargo.

Wullenwever was dragged, kicking and screaming to the negotiation table. He as well as many of the other Hanse cities had gathered in Hamburg to discuss possible solutions with representatives of the Dutch cities.

Wullenwever displayed his usual diplomatic finesse. In complete disregard of the actual situation, he demanded an apology and tons of silver in damages from the Dutch. The other council members and burgomeisters of the Hanse cities were flabbergasted by Wullenwever’s behaviour.

His colleague from Stralsund said to him: quote “I have been to many a negotiation in my life, but I have never seen anyone acting like you do. If you keep banging your head against the wall, you will leave here on your posterior” end quote. Well, he did not say posterior, but this is a family show.

As it happened Wullenwever did not leave in the manner just prescribed, but on the fastest horse he could get his hands on, because he had news from back home.

Act 2, Scene 6

Still spring 1534, Lübeck

As news of Wullenwever’s outrageous behaviour reached Lübeck, the remaining patrician voices on the council demanded an end to all this un-hanseatic nonsense. The city was broke and this war was going nowhere.

Crowds were gathering and Wullenwever’s rule would have been over, had he not suddenly appeared on his exhausted steed.

For all his faults, Wullenwever was a great orator and by promising the world and demanding adherence to the teaching of Martin Luther, he managed to turn the tide. The masses who had just hours earlier asked for his head are now demanding that the last members of the Old Council leave their posts. It is from now on the Wullenwever becomes a full-blown dictatorial ruler of the city.

Act 2, Scene 7

Sometime in 1534, the home of count Christopher of Oldenburg

One has to assume that the mercenary general count Christopher of Oldenburg was seriously surprised when emissaries of the free imperial city of Lübeck show up at his doorstep with a truly wild plan. They are asking him whether he wants to recruit a mercenary army and conquer Denmark on behalf of the City of Lübeck and – drumroll – the deposed king Christian II.

Sorry, say this again. The city of Lübeck that had fought against Christian II in three wars was to ally with this man who was locked up in the castle of Sonderburg rendering him largely useless? And just to clarify, this Christian II was a catholic who would be brought back to the throne by a protestant city, a member of the Schmalkaldic League?

How exactly was that supposed to work?

Well, the Lübeckers explain. Here is how this works:

Denmark has no king at the moment. The power sits with the Council of the realm which is stacked  with members of the high nobility. Nobody likes those.

The peasants in Jutland would happily rise up against their aristocratic oppressors to bring back their champion, king Christian II. Christian, they believe is a man of the people and a good catholic, something the peasants appreciate.

Then the emissaries say they have commitments from the cities of Copenhagen and Malmo to help in the fight. They too do not like the Council of the Realm because they are Catholics. The burghers have all been taken in by the teachings of Martin Luther. Christian II is their champion because as everyone knows he isn’t really a catholic but secretly sympathises with the protestant faith.

And let’s not forget that Christian II is the brother-in law of the emperor, which must count for something. And have we mentioned that Henry VIII of England is a mate?

Finally, there is the navy of Lübeck that still has control of the Baltic Sea. Nobody has more ships except maybe if the other Hanse cities combined with the Danes and the Swedes. But that would never happen.

Finally, the commercial terms. Christopher and his cousin, the ex-king Christian II get to rule Denmark and Norway. Lübeck was to be paid 400,000 guilders in compensation, is to be given the Oresund castles in perpetuity, 2/3rd of the tolls and Gotland, Bornholm and Bergen to boot.

Christopher of Oldenburg, at this point a mid-sized mercenary general sees that the plan may be bonkers and may also be the greatest opportunity that had ever crossed his desk. Christopher of Oldenburg is in.

The war is on.

Act 3, Scene 1

August 1534, Jutland

The war had begun. The incursions by Marx Meier into Holstein had expanded into a larger campaign. Christopher of Oldenburg had landed in Seeland and Copenhagen and Malmo had declared for Christian II. Peasants all across Denmark are in revolt.

The Danish council of the Realm now stands with its back against the wall. They did not want Cristian of Schleswig Holstein to be king, but with the realm in such turmoil they could neither elevate the 13-year old John nor continue with the interregnum.

In their distress they offer the crown to Christian who from now on is Christian III of Denmark and Norway. At least technically. Because he holds just parts of Denmark and nothing of Norway.

But he is an experienced general and administrator and so he gradually gets his act together. He convinces both catholic and protestant Danes to fight under his command against the invaders. Slowly but surely his army moves down the Jutland peninsula, recovering one stronghold after another.

Act 3, Scene 2

Stockholm, palace of Gustav Vasa

The king of Sweden is watching things closely. The idea that Denmark would become some sort of vassal of Lübeck is not much to his liking. He may hate the Danes and owe the Hansards for their help in the war of independence. But at the same time, having these ruthless merchants so close and demanding not just their money back but also even more access to the mineral wealth of his kingdom, that cannot be a good idea.

Gustav Vasa joins the fight on the side of king Christian III of Denmark.

Act 3, Scene 3

November 1534, Lübeck

King Christian III’s army has appeared before the walls of the city. Cannonballs are flying into the streets and on to the church roofs. How could that have happened?

The war was going so well just a few moths ago. Copenhagen and Malmo are in the hands of the Lubeck armies. But now their own homes are on fire.

Christian III had done the unexpected. Rather than gathering his troops to retake his capital, he had led them straight to the heart of his enemy, Lübeck.

The citizens of Lübeck had enough. They tell Wullenwever to go out to the Danish camp and agree a ceasefire. Either that or they go themselves and he should find himself a swift horse to get out here quick.

On November 11h, 1534 Wullenwever agrees to hand back all the places held by his own troops on condition that the siege is lifted. Christian III accepts since this gives him a free hand to regain Funen and Seeland.

Inside the city, Wullenwever isn’t removed as Burgomaster. But the main institutions no longer support him. He is isolated in his office, no longer able to raise funds or send fresh troops.

In his desperation he writes to Henry VIII and offers him the Danish crown if he would send him troops. And since he does not have the time to wait for an answer, he does the same with the duke of Mecklenburg. Neither responds.

Act 3, Scene 4

June 1535, Helsingborg

Despite the ceasefire, the war isn’t over. Christopher of Oldenburg still has Malmo, Copenhagen, most of Seeland and Funen. And he holds Helsingborg, the most important Danish fortress on the Oresund.

That is where he concentrates his troops, his own mercenaries and the Lübecker, which include the troops of our friend, the flamboyant Marx Meier. And it is here where the Swedes under Gustav Vasa are headed.

The two sides set up for battle. Christopher of Oldenburg and Marx Meier have decided to face the challenge head on, rather than hide behind the walls of Helsingborg. The commander of the fortress city was a loyal supporter of Christian II who had set up the large cannons on top of the city walls, aimed at the Swedes.

The smaller cannons of Helsingborg are prepared by the Danes and brought down to the battlefield, all set up and ready to fire.

As the Swedes appear within cannon shot, the German Landsknechts fire their Danish guns. The guns had been loaded with double charges so that they explode when fired killing not just the gun crew but many other men nearby. The extent of the treachery became clear when the aim of the cannons on the city walls is lowered. The Helsingborg garrison fire one devastating barrage after another at the Lubecker and Oldenburger below. Squeezed between the walls of Helsingborg and the advancing Swedes there was only one thing for the Landsknecht to do, run, run as fast as you can. 

Christopher of Oldenburg makes it to Copenhagen where he holds out until the end of the year. Marx Meier is captured and despite a valiant attempt to not only flee but also take the fortress he was imprisoned in, ends up being tortured, beheaded and quartered.

Meanwhile the Lübeck fleet too is defeated, and not just by Danes and Swedes, but by their old Hanseatic allies, the Prussians and oh yes, the navy of Danzig.

Act 3, Scene 5

August 1535, Lübeck, Rathaus

Once the news from Helsingborg reaches the city, Jurgen Wullenwever’s days are numbered. He resigns as Burgomeister and the members of the old council that had left the city in 1531 return and take their old seats.

And as before, they do not execute the man who had created so much chaos. They offer him a role as a clerk within the city’s administration and the opportunity to live out his days in peace.

Act 3, Scene 6

September 24 1537, Wolfenbüttel

Did Jürgen Wullenwever end his days as a clerk shuffling paper in a darkened office inside the splendid Rathaus of Lübeck? You bet.

Just a month after his ousting he is back on the road, seemingly in search of new allies to support his friend Christopher of Oldenburg who still holds out in Copenhagen.

He did not get far. Men of the archbishop of Bremen recognise him and take him prisoner. He is brought to Rotenburg castle where he undergoes a first round of torture. Then he is sent over to the Archbishop’s brother, the duke of Brunswick. Neither the archbishop not the duke had been involved in the conflict but hey, that does not mean they like a populist rabblerouser.

Wullenwever admits to all and everything his torturers accuse him, including being having stolen 20,000 guilders from the church treasury, wanting to unseat the new government of Lübeck and to support the anabaptism faith that was whipping Münster into a religious frenzy. None of that is true and as soon as the screws were off, Wullenwever denied all these allegations.

Still, on September 24, 1537 on the main square in Wolfenbuttel, Jurgen Wullenwever, the most politically ambitious Burgomaster of Lubeck was hung, drawn and quartered.

The End

Well, that is the end of our little play, but not really the end of the story.

The end result of the Wullenwever years was a massive decline in the influence of Lübeck in the Hanse itself. The Dutch can now sail freely into the Baltic Sea. Denmark consolidates into a strong centralised protestant kingdom after the last peasant uprising is suppressed. Sweden is heading to become a major European power whose king Gustavus Adolphus will rampage through the German lands in the 30-years war.

As for Wullenwever he becomes one of the more unusual figures in German historiography in as much that everyone claims him. The nationalists see him as an uncompromising defender of the German rule over the Baltic against the Danes and Swedes. The communist see him as a liberator of the lower classes whose attempt to bring democracy and freedom is thwarted by the conservative establishment. And it seems the German bourgeoisie is also in the Wullenwever fanclub. One of the finest restaurants in Lübeck is named after the man.

Only Thomas Mann and pretty much most historians take a dim view of him. Mann was particularly irritated because the Nazis renamed the house his patrician family had occupied for a couple of hundred years as Wullenwever Haus. In I think 1942 he said: quote:

“The stupid rabble does not even know that a house that bears the stamp of the eighteenth century on its rococo gable can not well have anything to do with the audacious mayor of the sixteenth. Jürgen Wullenweber has done a lot of damage to his city by the war with Denmark, and the people of Lübeck have done with him what the Germans might do one day with those who led them into this war: they have executed him” end quote.

As for my view, I think he was surely an awful diplomat, but his biggest fault was that he put all his efforts behind a political goal that was both unachievable and ineffective. Closing the Oresund against the natural interests of the Danes and their fellow Hansards would never have worked for more than a brief period. Moreover, as we have already seen in the late 14th century the Dutch weren’t the problem. In many ways they were the solution that brought about the economic boom in the second half of the 16th century.

That means the Hanse story isn’t over. There is still at least two more episodes to come. Because even though the political unity is cracked the cities aren’t. The political leaders may clash with each other over ludicrous plans of world domination, the merchants on the ground keep ploughing along, building their network, expanding the reach of their trade and making money. The cities, in particular Danzig, Hamburg and Bremen are flourishing as Lübeck and its protectionist leaders fade into the background.

As usual, I would like to thank my wonderful patrons who have signed up on patreon.com/historyofthegermans or on my website historyofthegermans.com/support. Your help is really, really appreciated.

As for the bibliography, see the shownotes.

Rainer Postel: Der Niedergang der Hanse in Hanse, Lebenswirklichkeit und Mythos: RI OPAC (regesta-imperii.de)

Jahnke, Carsten: Die Hanse | Reclam Verlag

Philipp Dollinger: Die Hanse

Liked it? Take a second to support History of the Germans Podcast on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!

Posted In

Leave a Reply