Forces of the Hanseatic League: 13th - 15th Centuries (Anglais) Broché – 22 avril 2014
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The League continued to operate well into the 17th century, but its golden age was between c. 1200 and c. 1500; thereafter it failed to take full advantage of the wave of maritime exploration to the west, south and east of Europe. During its 300 years of dominance the League's large ships - called "cogs" - were at the forefront of maritime technology, were early users of cannon, and were manned by strong fighting crews to defend them from pirates in both open-sea and river warfare. The home cities raised their own armies for mutual defence, and their riches both allowed them, and required them, to invest in fortifications and gunpowder weapons, since as very attractive targets they were subjected to sieges at various times.
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L'auteur nous raconte l'histoire de la Ligue hanséatique et des nombreuses guerres qu'elle a engagées contre les Scandinaves ou les Anglais, ainsi que son rôle commercial, en appui des entreprises de colonisation allemandes vers l'est de l'Europe. Ce volume original, est magnifiquement illustré par Gerry & Sam Embleton.
Le texte de David Nicolle est solide, synthétique et précis. Il permet une bonne approche globale d'un sujet très peu traité par des publications récentes en français.
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The topic covered is of interest because there is not a great deal published in English on the topic and what little there is often made of reprints of older books translated into English, such as Dollinger’s “The German Hansa” (1970), listed by David Nicolle in his little bibliography and which was first published in French (and is atrociously expensive!) or Helen Zimmern’s “The Hansa Towns”, which was initially published over a century ago and was translated from German. Somewhat curiously, David Nicolle did not list this latter title and also omitted a couple of more recent publications in English which could have helped readers “looking for more” (and which I have listed at the end of the review). Instead, he lists some 22 references in German. While this high number is unsurprising, these references will hardly be helpful for any English reader that does not also read German.
My second issue with this volume is however more important. This publication is titled “Forces of the Hanseatic League”. Alongside to descriptions about troop types, I was expecting to get some idea of the numbers involved, at least for some of the major cities of the League. There is not a single number or indication about the effectives that, say, Lûbeck or Bremen, or even the whole League mobilised, neither is there the slightest indication of how many ships the League was either able or effectively did put at sea. Accordingly, the whole discussion on types of troops (crossbowmen etc…) and ships, while somewhat interesting, is rather generic and bland.
A third issue is that the few examples of battles in which the forces of the Hanseatic League were engaged are only mentioned in passing and in no more than a couple of lines for each of them. Few, if any, indications are given on the size of the opposing forces, with the author content to state that these were mostly small scale or, when mentioning warfare at sea against pirates, that it was “exceptionally ruthless and brutal” and that no prisoners were taken on either side. There is, for instance, a case when the author mentions a heavy defeat of the Hansa, mentioning that its “whole fleet” was captured during a war against Denmark, with the author mentioning that some 200 were killed and four times more wounded. The problem here is that the reader has not idea of the size of this “whole fleet”. Even the piece on the organisation of the Hansa’s Assembly and command is defective with the author mentioning that it was simple because based on ship ownership and that the League could “assemble substantial naval squadrons at agreed times and places” without providing any further precision.
In fact, the two pieces I preferred were the plates and the description of ship types (which is well-supported by one of the plates), although some of the plates and the section on ship types also have their problems. Regarding the later, the absence of any ship quantification at any point in time of the League’s long history is a significant issue. Regarding the former, Plate E is perhaps a good example of what can be expected. The illustration shows three mercenaries and crewmen of one of the League’s ships under attack from Baltic pirates (which you do not see) “in stormy weather late in the season.” One issue is that I do not know to what extent such an attack is even plausible, given the weather conditions. A second issue is that, because of these conditions, it would be somewhat problematic for the Mecklemburg man-at-arms and mercenary to wear his full gear including a full bascinet, a brigantine worn over a mail shirt, a pair gauntlets and complete plate leg defences, all this on a wet deck, under the pouring rain and in the middle of a storm. Finally, the Mecklemburg mercenary is shown with the visor of his helmet down and holding, halberd in his hand and standing on the ship’s slippery deck. Does this sound even barely plausible?
Two - somewhat generous - stars, mainly because I liked most of the plates.
OSPREY PUBLICATIONS, 2014
QUALITY SOFTCOVER, $17.95, 48 PAGES, MAPS, PHOTOGRAPHS, ILLUSTRATIONS, GLOSSARY, CHRONOLOGY
In the 12th Century, German traders at Visby, on the island of Gotland in the Baltic, formed a cooperative association. Similar associations of German traders were established later at London (where the League's trading post was called The Steelyard); Bergan, Norway; Novgorod, Russia; and Bruges, Flanders. In Germany, the fall of the Hohenstaufen dynasty in 1254 ended strong Imperial rule. Northern German towns began forming leagues to defend their trading rights abroad. Soon the associations of German merchants abroad united with the northern German towns to form the Hanseatic League.
Many cities along the Baltic coast had experienced significant growth since the late 13th Century. This growth was driven by a rising volume of trade; itself driven by agricultural surpluses and expansion of cloth and metal industries around Europe. The cities came under a variety of political controls, and trade and manufacturers were controlled by various guilds within each city, so there was no single entity with any authority over the economic process.
The League grew in power throughout the first half of the 14th Century. It virtually monopolized trade on the Baltic and North Seas, especially in cod and herring, furs, lumber, grain, cloth, and minerals. It suppressed piracy, improved navigation by dredging waterways, and building lighthouses and canals. Courts were established at the League's foreign trading posts to settle disputes among members. Laws were drawn up for commercial operations and offenders were boycotted. The League became strong enough to protect its merchants from arbitrary laws of foreign rulers and from foreign lawsuits.
"Hanseatic" hansa was an old High German word for "union" or "association". At its height, the League included about 70 cities and towns, including Bremen, Lubeck, Brunswick, Cologne, and Riga. The League never had a permanent governing board. Deputies, chosen by the cities, met at Lubeck from time to time, but their decrees had no binding effect on the member cities. In practice, however, mutual economic interests resulted in a high degree of cooperation. Rarely, a rebellious member might be expelled from the League.
FORCES OF THE HANSEATIC LEAGUE: 13TH AND 15TH CENTURIES is an excellent introduction for anyone wanting information on this much misunderstood but important organization. This book is well written and is complemented by beautifully detailed illustrations and maps.
Colonel Robert A. Lynn, Florida Guard
Excellent illustrations and a necessary list of citations to find out more.
Very nice addition to my Ospreys.