Victual Brothers

Victual Brothers

The Victual Brothers resp. Vitalians or Vitalian Brotherhood were a companionship of privateers who later turned to piracy. They were hired in 1392 by the Dukes of Mecklenburg to fight against Denmark, because the Danish Queen Margaret I had imprisoned Albrecht of Mecklenburg and his son to subdue the kingdom of Sweden. Albrecht was King of Sweden since 1364 and Duke of Mecklenburg since 1383.

Guild of the Victual Brothers

When Queen Margaret and Albrecht of Mecklenburg were battling for Scandinavian supremacy and Margaret's forces had besieged Stockholm, privateers named the Victual Brothers engaged in sea-war-activities and shipped food 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 bring needed supplies to the besieged town of Stockholm.

The Victual Brothers were organised as a brotherhood or guild and attracted men from all over Europe. Their main naval enemy in 1392 was the powerful Hanseatic town of Lübeck, which supported Denmark in the war. Apart from Lübeck, the Hanseatic League at first encouraged the Victual Brothers. Most of the Hanseatic towns had no desire to see Denmark victorious, since its location was strategic for the control of the seaways.

For several years from 1392 on, the Victual Brothers were a strong power to be reckoned with in the Baltic Sea. They had safe harbours in the cities of Rostock, Ribnitz, Wismar and Stralsund. However, they soon went their own way, more or less turning to open piracy and coast robbery. In 1393 they sacked the town of Bergen for the first time and in 1394 they conquered Malmö. They also plundered Åbo, Vyborg, Faxeholm, Styresholm and Korsholm and occupied parts of Frisia and Schleswig.

At the climax of their power, the Victual Brothers occupied Gotland in 1394 and set up their headquarters in Visby. Baltic Sea maritime trade virtually collapsed, and the herring industry suffered from their depredations. Queen Margaret even turned to King Richard II seeking to charter English ships to combat the pirates.

From 1395 on Queen Margaret gained the upper hand politically. She united Denmark, Sweden and Norway and formed the Kalmar Union. Thus, the Hanseatic League was forced to cooperate with her, foreshadowing its eventual decline.

At the same time, the Victual Brothers impartially raided everyone's shipping. Their famous battle cry was "God's friends and the whole world's enemies". Queen Margaret and King Albert of Sweden conceded Gotland to the allied Teutonic Order as a pledge (similar to a fiefdom). An invasion army under Konrad von Jungingen, the Grand Master of the Order, conquered the island in 1398, destroying Visby and driving the Victual Brothers out of Gotland.

Likedeelers, the successors of the Victual Brothers


Their most famous leader was Captain Störtebeker. He got his name allegedly because he could swallow four litres of beer without taking the beaker from his mouth. However, it might simply be a family name from Wismar. The Low German word "Störtebeker" means in English: "Down the drink in the beaker". In 1401 the Hamburg warship Brindled Cow, leading a small fleet under Commander Simon of Utrecht, caught up with Störtebeker's forces near Heligoland. After three days of running battle, Störtebeker and his crew were finally overpowered and trapped by means of a trick.

Yet this was not the end of piracy and coastal raiding by the Likedeelers. In 1429, 28 years after the execution of Störtebeker, other members of the Victual Brothers attacked and plundered the city of Bergen in Norway, eventually burning it to the ground. Until about 1440, maritime trade in both the North Sea and the Baltic Sea was seriously in danger of attack by the Likedeelers.

External links

* [ Agreement on reparations for injuries and damages by vitalians] (made between King Henry IV of England and the Hanseatic League)
* [ Vitalienbrüder] (in German)

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