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  • Writer's pictureFrans Riemersma

How great was Great Pier? (the sequel II)



To understand the ‘greatness’ of Great Pier, we decided to look into his ‘achievements’. As a freedom fighter (or pirate, if you like) his core business was to ransack ships and towns. If you listen or read about the places Great Pier sacked the area and number are quite impressive.


Considering Great Pier was only active for some four years, his ‘productivity’ is huge or deceiving. To name a few examples of anecdotal places Great Pier ‘paid a visit’.

  • Recently, a friend informed me that back in the days Great Pier (a.k.a. Long Peter, Big Pier) had sacked Spaarnedam, near Amsterdam.

  • Martinus Beekman states that “In 1517, the Arumer Zwarte Hoop captured the town of Asperen, slaughtering virtually all its inhabitants”, as you can read in his book Beschreiving van de Stad en Baronnie Asperen. Vertoonende haare oudheid, gebouwen, hooge, en verdere regeering, ens. Utrecht, Mattheus Visch, 1745.

  • According to Douwe Kalma, Grutte Pier “raided cities in Holland, like Alkmaar and Medemblik, threatened Amsterdam and Haerlem, whose surroundings they destroyed’.


Since we’re on a roll here, why not debunk some more myths about Great Pier? We believe it is time to go back to what the contemporary sources tell about him, instead of relying on 'secondhand' sources.


We decided to look solely into what contemporary historians wrote about Great Pier. The reason is that his biographers showed a tendency to colour and add some ‘facts’ to these original sources, as we learned in our first article about Great Pier.


During the days that Great Pier lived we found three (reliable) contemporary sources. To be precise what is meant by 'contemporary'; Great Pier lived from ca. 1480 (Kimswerd) - 28 October 1520 (Sneek).

  1. Petrus Jacob of Thabor, a.k.a Petrus Thaborita Bolsward 1450 – Bolsward 1527.

  2. Worp of Thabor, a.k.a. Worp Thaborita Rinsumageest, Friesland ? - 26 February 1538.

  3. Desiderus Erasmus of Rotterdam Rotterdam 28 October 1466 – Basel, Zwitserland 12 July 1536.


The first two authors were "backdoor" neighbours from Great Pier. Great Pier lived in Sneek and Petrus and Worp of Thabor resided in the monastery Thabor in Tirns, some 4.8 km from Sneek. The monastery can be regarded as the center of Frisian history writers in those days. They were, so to speak, on top of the news, almost literally. The monastery was a satellite of the Congregation of Windesheim in Germany.



According to sources in Wikipedia, also Erasmus wrote about Great Pier, albeit not in too favourable terms. Wikipedia states that a [better source needed], and so we did below :-).


Let’s explore their work in more detail to trace back the locations that Great Pier roamed and plot them on a close enough contemporary map by Johannes Janssonius, dating from 1658.


1. Petrus Thaborita Petrus was a lay brother, someone who belongs to a religious group, especially a group living together in a monastery, and who does simple work for the group, such as preparing food.


The Archief voor vaderlandsche: en inzonderheid vriesche geschiedenis has been written around 1500-1546 and covers Frisian history from 781 to 1527. For the period up to 1464, the work is drawn entirely from older sources, for the period thereafter it is independent. It was not until the 15th century that the news became denser and more detailed. Petrus gives, in Dutch, an account of the turbulent years between ca. 1470 and 1527, as he experienced in Westergo, Friesland.


The Chronicle of Petrus was published in 1824-1827 by W.H.C.A. Visser and H. Amersfoordt, working for the University of Amsterdam. In three volumes Great Pier is mentioned.

  1. Volume 1 printed 1824 available online via Bayerische Staatsbibliothek or Harvard University.

  2. Volume 2 printed 1827 available online via Bayerische Staatsbibliothek of Harvard University.

  3. Volume 3 printed 1828 available online via Google: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek of Harvard University.


When ploughing for days through the old Dutch texts scavenging for place names and dates in relation to Great Pier we find the following list of towns. What is striking is that Petrus covers only two of the years that Great Pier was active in battle.


Great Pier's whereabouts according to

Petrus of Thabor

1516

Trip to Workum and Staweren

1516

Captured a Danish crayer

1516

Back to Bolswart

1517

Sneek stronghold

1517

Hindeloopen conquered (treaty)

1517

Thessel of to Wyringhen attacked

1517 May?

Ylst attacked

1517 May - June

Dockum conquered



2. Worperus Tyaerda Thaborita Worperus of Thabor, was the canon, procurator, and prior of the Thabor monastery.


Kronijken van Friesland IV & V was written between 1517 en 1538. Worp treated Frisian events from the fifteenth century and then up to 1523 at a higher level and with a broader view. Worp wrote in Dutch, in books IV (Vierde) and V (Vijfde) of his 'Chronicle of Friesland’. These books differ considerably in scale and design from the first three, which were written in Latin.


The book of Worp was published in parts by J.G. Ottema between 1847 and 1871. The list of towns is much larger than the one from Worp, not only because Worp covers the full number of years of Great Pier's endeavours.


Great Pier's whereabouts according to

Worp of Thabor

January 1515

Kimswert burnt down

March 1515

Hoern attacked

April 1516

Enckhuysen ship captured

September 1516

Woerckum liberated

January 1517

Bolswart lost

After January 1517

Sneek strongholt

March 1517

Hindeloopen conquered (treaty)

April 1517

Nycloester attacked

May - June 1517

Dockum conquered

June 1517

Preparations in Cunere, Blocksyl, Zuartewaeter, Gelmuyden

June 1517

Medemblick attacked

June 1517

Alkmaer attacked

1519

Emerick attacked (Hemrik?)


3. Erasmus of Rotterdam

As said, according to sources in Wikipedia, Erasmus wrote about Great Pier. There is however no book title reference, but two letters. The letters and corresponding quotes are mentioned in the publication called: “The Age of Erasmus, Lectures Delivered in the Universities of Oxford and London” by P.S. Allen, published by Clarendon Press in 1914.


On closer inspection, Erasmus does not mention Great Pier himself. It is the author who introduces Long Peter (three times) to give context to Erasmus's words. As a traveller, Erasmus is concerned about the Black Band (or Black Hope), the band of Great Pier.


Letter to Thomas More - 1519

Erasmus was about to set out from Leuven in Belgium to Basle in Switzerland, to work at a new edition of the New Testament. Bands such as these were, of course, a peril to travellers. Having said that, Great Pier's Band was nowhere near the travel itinerary of Erasmus. So we're not sure if he was referring to Great Pier's Black Band or bands operating in Europe in general.


"These fellows were stripped before disbandment: so they will have all the more excuse for fresh plundering. This is a consideration for the people! They were so hemmed in that not one of them could have escaped: yet the Dukes were for letting them go scot-free. It was a mere chance that any of them were killed. Fortunately, a man blew his trumpet: there was at once an uproar, and more than a thousand were cut down. The Archbishop alone was sound. He said that the priest thought he was if the matter were left to him, he would see that such things should never occur again. The people understand the position, but are obliged to acquiesce.”


It is unclear as to what exact location or incident Erasmus is talking about. Since he is mentioning the Archbishop it could be Utrecht. But then again, the Archbishop could have been traveling the Netherlands.


Letter to John Colet - ?

The second quote is from a letter to John Colet (1467–1519). Again Erasmus complains about the Black Band being tolerated by the ruling governors. Unfortunately, P.S. Allen is unclear about the date of this letter.


“It is cruel! The nobles care more for these ruffians than for their own subjects. The fact is, they count on them to keep the people down."


Great Pier's whereabouts between 1515-1520

As mentioned earlier there are some striking differences between the lists of Petrus and Worp. Comparing the places mentioned in the two chronicles, we see a more complete overview by Worp. Still, Worp missed a few dates that Petrus did mention (e.g. in 1517).


Not only is the list of Petrus shorter and only covering two years, but also some mayor endeavours differ. Petrus does not mention the attack of two majors cities in one day of Medemblik and Alkmaar, which was huge in those days.


In his turn, Worp does not mention the attack of Wieringen and Texel, again two significant ports at the time! It is confusing that two members of the same monastery, living in the same time and writing about the same topic overlook such important feats.


As to the claims made by several persons in the introduction of this blog post, Spaarnedam, Asperen, Amsterdam and Haarlem are not on the lists below. Just saying.


Timeline

Worp of Thabor

Petrus of Thabor

January 1515

Kimswert burnt

March 1515

Hoern attacked

April 1516

Enckhuysen ship captured

Captured a Danish crayer

September 1516

Woerckum liberated

Trip to Workum and Staweren

1516


Back to Bolswart

January 1517

Bolswart lost

After January 1517

Sneek strongholt

Sneek strongholt

March 1517

Hindeloopen conquered (treaty)

Hindeloopen conquered (treaty)

April 1517

Nycloester attacked

1517

Thessel of to Wyringhen attacked

1517 May?

Ylst attacked

May - June 1517

Dockum conquered

Dockum conquered

June 1517

Preparations in Cunere, Blockyl, Zuartewaeter, Gelmuyden

June 1517

Medemblick attacked

June 1517

Alkmaer attacked

1519

Emrick attacked (Hemrik?)

Only the last five years of Great Pier's life have been covered extensively. In that light it makes sense to explain why Great Pier entered and left(!) the battleground.

  • Worp describes what triggered Great Pier to enter the battleground.

  • Petrus explains the reasons of Great Pier to leave the battleground.


“In dit jaer van 15 den 29 January branden Fraenickers Kimsert met dye kerke ende onder anderen groete Pyers huys , want hy toe Kimsert woende, waerom worde groete Pyer vertuyfelt ende creeg tot hem 30 ofte 40 huysluyden van Kimsert, Arum ende Witmaersum ende andere dorpen, dye oeck een paert voerbrant waeren van den Sassens, wt Franicker ende Harlingen ende hoer adherenten, daernae worden sy wel ses hondert sterck. Doen lieten sy scheepen maken ende roefden toe zee op hoer vianden opt waeter, dat groete Pyer voernoemdt worde ouer all Duitslant.”


“In the year from January 15th to 29th, Franekers burned Kimswerd down with the churches and among other things, Great Pier's home, since he lived in Kimswerd, which made Pier diabolical and collected 30 or 40 neighbours from Kimswerd, Arum, Witmarsum and other villages, of whom a horse had been burned by the Saxons, from Franeker and Harlingen and their supporters, becoming 600 man strong (ed.: ‘ Arumer Swarte Hoep - Arum Black Band, eventually becoming some 3,000 people in 1517 when they attacked the city of Dokkum). Then they built ships and luting their enemies on sea and water, in a way that Pier was renowned all over Germany.”


Great Pier dies on the 28th of October of 1520. Petrus describes that the year before Great Pier ended up in arguments with the rulers as he saw they were not keeping their promises and they did no longer support the cause of the inhabitants.


“al ho vrome daden dat hij dede, nochtant soe was hij naderhant myt sommighe Ghelresse regenten al oneens, als sonderlingh mytten Canseler ende Rauenhey; dat was die Onder Statholder; ende dat daerom; want Grote Pier was recht wt, ende hy en was gheen plomstrycker (pluimstrijker); want hy sach dat die Ghelresse nyet deden als sy die Fryesen onthieten hadden”


“Despite his noble deeds, he increasingly disagreed with some Guelder rulers, in particular with the Chancellor and Rauenhey; the Vice Stadtholder; And so Great Pier, who was straightforward, and no sweet talker; because he saw that the Guelder rulers did not do as they had promised the Frisians”.


It escalated when the Guelder rulers decided to raise extra taxes.


“ende sy macten spraeck op, om afsterstallinghe scattinghe; ende hier was PIER seer teghen, ende mochte dat nyet wel verdraghen; daerom soe seyde die Canseler eens tot Grote Pier, dat hy was een verraeder, ende Pier seide weder totten den Canseler, dat hy dat loech; als een Drenske paep als hy was; ende Rauenhey die grymde to Pier, alsoe dat Grote Pier eens tot Rauenhey sprack en seide: Du Rauenhey ! wolstu my wat doen, soe doet dat eerlick als een Vroem man, ende nyet als een schelm; hiermede wil ik dy moeten; ende wees op zijn mes. Dit heeft my Grote Piers broeder seluer gheseit , dat Pier deese worden mytten Canseler ende mit Rauenhey seluer heeft ghehadt. Hier wt mach men bekennen dat sy hem nyet lieff en hadden; mer sy en dorstten hem nyet aen.”


“And they talked about raising overdue taxes, to which Great Pier was very opposed, and could not bear the idea; therefore the Chancellor accused that Great Pier was a traitor, to which Pier replied that the Chancellor was a liar; like a Drense papist; and Rauenhey grinned at Pier is such a way that Great Pier spoke to Rauenhey and said: “Hey Rauenhey, do you want to challenge me as an honest and devote man, instead of a villain; I want to meet you with this; pointing at his sword.

(This is where the author Petrus speaks to the reader) All this is what one of Great Pier's brothers told me personally, that Pier exchanged these words with the Chancellor and Rauenhey himself. From this, one can derive that they did not like him; but they did not dare to confront him either.”


Further listening, reading & literature



Petrus van Thabor

  • Volume 1 - Bronteksten (p123, p132, p136-p137,p140,p147-p148, p166)

  • Volume 1 - Bronteksten (p204 - p205)

  • Volume 1 - Bronteksten (p216 - p222)

  • Volume 1 - Bronteksten (p159 - p263)

  • Volume 2 - idem

  • Volume 3 - Aantekeningen (p166)

Worp van Thabor

  • Vierde boek der Kronijken van Friesland

  • Vijfde boek der Kronijken van Friesland - (136,139,176,189,200)

  • Vijfde boek der Kronijken van Friesland - (195-203,230-231)



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