- Victual Brothers
The Victual Brothers resp. Vitalians or Vitalian Brotherhood were a companionship of
privateers who later turned to piracy. They were hired in 1392by the Dukes of Mecklenburgto 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 Swedensince 1364and Duke of Mecklenburgsince 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 Latinword "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
guildand attracted men from all over Europe. Their main naval enemy in 1392was the powerful Hanseatic town of Lübeck, which supported Denmark in the war. Apart from Lübeck, the Hanseatic Leagueat 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, Wismarand Stralsund. However, they soon went their own way, more or less turning to open piracy and coast robbery. In 1393they sacked the town of Bergen for the first time and in 1394they conquered Malmö. They also plundered Åbo, Vyborg, Faxeholm, Styresholmand Korsholmand occupied parts of Frisiaand Schleswig.
At the climax of their power, the Victual Brothers occupied
Gotlandin 1394and 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.
1395on Queen Margaret gained the upper hand politically. She united Denmark, Swedenand Norwayand formed the Kalmar Union. Thus, the Hanseatic Leaguewas forced to cooperate with her, foreshadowing its eventual decline.
At the same time, the Victual Brothers impartially raided everyone's shipping. Their famous
battle crywas "God's friends and the whole world's enemies". Queen Margaret and King Albert of Swedenconceded 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 Visbyand 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 namefrom Wismar. The Low Germanword "Störtebeker" means in English: "Down the drink in the beaker". In 1401the Hamburgwarship 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 Bergenin 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.
* [http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/h/hakluyt/voyages/v05/chapter11.html Agreement on reparations for injuries and damages by vitalians] (made between King
Henry IV of Englandand the Hanseatic League)
* [http://www.jadu.de/mittelalter/personen/vitalien.html Vitalienbrüder] (in German)
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