“Piracy in the Baltic” by Author Anna Markland

Photo – “Lubeck in the Middle Ages.”

 

PIRACY IN THE BALTIC

During the 14th century, Queen Margaret I of Denmark was battling Albert of Mecklenburg for Scandinavian supremacy. 

Albert had been King of Sweden since 1364 and Duke of Mecklenburg since 1383. The Vitalian Brotherhood were hired in 1392 by the Dukes of Mecklenburg to fight against Denmark. 

While Queen Margaret’s forces were besieging Stockholm, the blockade runners, known as the Victual Brotherhood, engaged in war at sea and shipped provisions to keep the city supplied. The name Victual Brothers is derived from the Latin word “victualia” — meaning provisions — and refers to their first mission, which was to supply the besieged city.

The Victual Brothers were organised as a brotherhood or guild. Their main naval enemy in 1392 was the powerful Hanseatic town of Lübeck, which supported Denmark in the war.

Apart from Lübeck, the rest of the Hanseatic League initially supported the Victual Brothers. Most of the Hanseatic towns had no desire for a victory for Denmark, with its strategic location for control of the seaways. For several years from 1392, the Victual Brothers were a strong power in the Baltic Sea. 

They soon turned to open piracy and coastal plunder. In 1393 they sacked the town of Bergen for the first time and in 1394 they conquered Malmö. They occupied parts of Frisia and Schleswig.

At the climax of their power, the Victual Brothers occupied the island of Gotland, Sweden in 1394 and set up their headquarters in Visby. 

Maritime trade in the Baltic Sea virtually collapsed, and the herring industry suffered from their depredations. Queen Margaret even turned to King Richard II of England and sought to charter English ships to combat the pirates. From 1395 onwards, Queen Margaret gained the upper hand politically. She united Denmark, Sweden and Norway. The Hanseatic League was forced to cooperate with her, foreshadowing its eventual decline. An invasion army destroyed Visby and drove the Victual Brothers out of Gotland.