Hanseatic League - History - Foundation and Formation

Foundation and Formation

Lübeck became a base for merchants from Saxony and Westphalia trading eastward and northward. Well before the term Hanse appeared in a document (1267), merchants in different cities began to form guilds or Hansa with the intention of trading with towns overseas, especially in the economically less-developed eastern Baltic. This area was a source of timber, wax, amber, resins, furs, along with rye and wheat brought down on barges from the hinterland to port markets. The towns raised their own armies, with each guild being required to provide levies when needed. The Hanseatic cities came to each other's aid, and commercial ships often had to be used to carry soldiers and their arms.

Visby functioned as the leading centre in the Baltic before the Hansa. Sailing east, Visby merchants established a trading post at Novgorod, and they called it Gutagard (it was also known as Gotenhof). This was established in 1080. Merchants from northern Germany at first also stayed in this Gotlander settlement. Yet later, they established their own trading station in Novgorod, known as Peterhof, which was further up from the river. This took place in the first half of the 13th century. In 1229, German merchants at Novgorod were granted certain privileges, which made their position more secure.

Before the foundation of the League in 1356 the word Hanse did not occur in the Baltic language. The Gotlanders used the word varjag.

Hansa societies worked to remove restrictions to trade for their members. For example, the merchants of the Cologne Hansa convinced Henry II, King of England to free them (1157) from all tolls in London and allow them to trade at fairs throughout England. The "Queen of the Hansa", Lübeck, where traders were required to trans-ship goods between the North Sea and the Baltic, gained the Imperial privilege of becoming a free imperial city in 1227, as previously its later partner Hamburg in 1189.

In 1241, Lübeck, which had access to the Baltic and North Sea fishing grounds, formed an alliance—a precursor of the League—with Hamburg, another trading city, which controlled access to salt-trade routes from Lüneburg. The allied cities gained control over most of the salt-fish trade, especially the Scania Market; and Cologne joined them in the Diet of 1260. In 1266, Henry III granted the Lübeck and Hamburg Hansa a charter for operations in England, and the Cologne Hansa joined them in 1282 to form the most powerful Hanseatic colony in London. Much of the drive for this co-operation came from the fragmented nature of existing territorial government, which failed to provide security for trade. Over the next 50 years the Hansa itself emerged with formal agreements for confederation and co-operation covering the west and east trade routes. The principal city and linchpin remained Lübeck; with the first general Diet of the Hansa held there in 1356, the Hanseatic League acquired an official structure.

Read more about this topic:  Hanseatic League, History

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