Düdesche Hanse (Middle Low German)Timeline: Merveilles du Monde (Map Game)
Hansa Teutonica (Latin)
1356 - Present
The Hanseatic League, with the central states in green and associate cities colored in striated green
|Official languages||Middle Low German|
|Regional Languages||Franconian, Danish|
|Ethnic groups||German; Danish; Dutch, Slavic|
The central states led by Lübeck exert a considerable amount of control over Baltic trade and North Sea trade, holding a number of monopolies and exclusive trade networks. These high-trafficked trade networks regularly see convoys of merchants crossing the Baltic to trade large amounts of goods. These convoys are what lend the league its name: Hansa in High German means convoy. These convoys are protected by armed escort. This navy, which remains active in peacetime to guard against pirates and smugglers, is one of the largest in Europe. In addition, it maintains a rotating presence of mercenaries throughout Europe, guarding its inland trade routes. In times of war, cities oftentimes employ these mercenaries, in addition to raising militias of their own. Because of the nature of medieval Europe, these soldiers have more-often-than-not seen some type of combat, either fighting off bandits or even armies from feudal lords, intent on keeping Hanseatic traders out.
The League holds something of a quasi-national identity. Though people will always identify with their constituent city - as is usually the case in the Holy Roman Empire - a sense of togetherness between the Hanseatic cities means that they share pride in each other's accomplishments. Though feuds do arupt between cities, they will fight tooth and claw to ensure the safety of the other cities, if not out of spite. It is through this spirit, along with a healthy dose of an expansion of economic and cultural hegemony via Hamburg and Lübeck, that the League consolidated through the 14th and 15th centuries to form a merchant republic spanning most of Germany's northern coast.
By the 14th Century, Lübeck was already a major power in the Baltic. It had risen from humble beginnings to become one of the pre-eminent cities in Northern Europe. Dubbed the 'Venice of the North,' Lübeck was the leading city of a growing Hanseatic League. This League already stretched from Riga in the east to Cologne in the Rhinelands. However, it was beginning around this time that external pressure forced Lübeck to consolidate the states around itself to protect the long-term sustainability of the Hanseatic League.
This first came in the form of a closer tie with Hamburg. Though the cities practically shared councilmen, beginning in 1307 the two cities began sharing mayors. This unbroken tradition has led to Hamburg and Lübeck being twin cities. However, not all of Lübeck's expansion was so peaceful. In 1324, Saxe-Lauenburg attempted to exert control over the Hanseatic League in a failed invasion. This surprise attack, which took place in the middle of a succession crisis in the Holy Roman Empire, was met with force by Lübeck. After a short war, Ratzeburg and Saxe-Lauenburg's administrations were replaced by puppets favorable to Lübeck. The See of Lübeck and Ratzeburg shared a bishop and Lauenburg's civic administration was replaced by councilmen from Hamburg and Lübeck. The Ascanians remained in power, forced to ally with the Hanseatic League.
Over the next decade, the Kingdom of Denmark and the Hanseatic League were engaged in a number of proxy wars and economic tiffs. Denmark, which was endanger of outright collapsing by this point, could not stop piracy from affecting the waters in the area. For this reason, the Hanseatic League cut off trade with Denmark as it attempted to assert hegemony over the seas in the region. The Hanseatic ports in Denmark thrived as the ever-growing navy of the Hansa fought pirate strongholds and smugglers. As the Hansa achieved naval superiority over the next few decades, the economy of the Danish crown practically collapsed.
Reign of the Aldermen
Molding a European Economy
The Hanseatic League as a whole is led by the meeting of the Rat, who represent the guilds of the Hanseatic cities. These representatives, or Ratssendeboten, meet in Lübeck in the Lübeck Rathaus in an annual meeting called the tagfahrt or 'meeting ride.' Attendance of these representatives is optional, and more often than not the Ratssendeboten that attend are those that feel strongly for or against a particular law. At the same time, the meeting of the Aldermen, who are representatives from the most powerful Haneatic cities, takes place during the Tagfahrt. During a meeting of the Aldermen, votes must be unanimous. Once a bill is passed, it must be incorporated into law in each free city under the League. Whether or not laws passed by the central Hanseatic states are adopted by Rhine cities depends on the administration of the city at the time, and these laws are more often than not suggestions rather than actual rules outside the Hanseatic central cities.
This body of representatives meets every year for a month during the Tagfahrt. It includes mayors from Hanseatic towns and cities, guild representatives, and banking magnates. On paper, this is a body of hundreds of Representatives. In reality, there are perhaps 50 representatives meeting during a Tagfahrt. Their very attendance usually means they are decidedly for or against an issue. The meetings of the Ratssendeboten typically answers more mundane questions that affect individual cities. Trade disputes, currency standardization, and shipping rights are all the matters of debate during the Tagfahrt.
Typically, the Tagfahrt lasts roughly a month, where the most intense trades take place. During times of peace, these meetings are incredibly mundane. In times of war or unrest in the Empire, the Tagfahrt of the Hanseatic League is a quagmire of representatives and the most wealthy in the Empire setting trades that oftentimes set the standards for prices until the next Tagfahrt. These trade floors oftentimes operate as proto-stock exchanges.
The richest of those in the Ratssendeboten are oftentimes members of prestigious clubs and societies. The most notable Hanseatic club is the Society of the Compass. Held in Lübeck, the Society hosts extravagant parties, pleasure barges, and maintains its headquarters at a beautiful estate overlooking the Travesmünde. It can be said that the true politics of the Hanseatic League happen in these informal meetings. Tales of backdoor politics and secretive trade deals intermingle with rumors of sexual escapades and alcohol-induced shenanigans, lending something of a legend to these meetings. Regardless of what is real and what is fiction, the importance of the Society of the Compass on the Hanseatic Rat is not to be understated.
The real policy-makers of the Hanseatic League are the aldermen. Though the Grand Syndics typically hold sway in emergencies, the Tagfahrts are where decisions that keep the League running, attended by the Aldermen or their representatives. In participating in this council, Aldermen must ensure the policy of the Hanseatic League is maintained in their respective lands. This coalition of tightly-knit alliances created during the 15th century is the closest thing to a legislative branch the Hansa has. They meet at the same time as the Rat, and many Aldermen sit in during these meetings, weighing in on important matters.
The Aldermen are some of the most powerful people in the Hanseatic League. To ensure unity, decisions made by this council must be unanimous. Typically, the weight of Lübeck and Hamburg will sway Danzig, Bremen and the Wendish cities. The lord of Brunswick-Lüneberg typically sways the votes of Elbe and nearby Rhine states, though Münster and Bremen also hold significant sway, especially among the more religious leaders of the Hanseatic League. Bills and movements sent to the Aldermen frequently die on the debate floor or take years worth of revisions before being passed. War declarations are very frequently defeated, especially wars of aggression.
The councilor with the highest amount of sway in Hanseatic politics is typically the Grand Mayor of Hamburg and Lübeck. Old patrician families are more often than not the holders of this position, though every so often a changing global market gives rise to a new family who will take the reins of determining the policy of the Hanseatic League and the German economy as a whole.
In the event of a sudden matter of grave importance, any Alderman of the Hanseatic League can issue a diet. Effectively an emergency tagfahrt, these diets are meetings held outside the normally scheduled spring months.
At the top of Hanseatic hierarchy are the Syndics, who hold executive power over the Hanseatic League as of 1489. During times of emergency (war, economic collapse) the Syndics may veto the votes of Aldermen or dissolve the body completely. However, during times of peace, the Syndics typically vote with the Aldermen, their vote carrying extra weight. Typically, a consensus of the Syndics supercedes the decisions of Aldermen or Rats of legal Hanseatic States. These Syndics are the most powerful offices in the Hanseatic League. It includes:
- The Mayor of Lübeck and Hamburg
- The Mayor of Bremen
- The Mayor of Danzig
- The Prince Archbishop of Bremen
- The Archbishop of Osnabrück
- The Archbishop of Münster
- The Duke of Brunswick-Lüneberg
- The Duke of Pomerania
- The Duke of Holstein
Justice in the Hanseatic League
More often than not, legal affairs within the Hansa fall to the Civic or feudal laws where the case is held. Hanseatic States agree to extradite criminals for trial in the offended city and will allied banking guilds may give away the location of indebted people to debt collectors or bounty hunters. There are a number of law schools in the Hanseatic League that hold sway in the Imperial courts of law. The rate of lawsuits per capita is higher in Lübeck than perhaps anywhere else in the Holy Roman Empire.
In the event of a case against the League itself, the Hansa typically attempts to pawn the case off onto individuals, guilds, or cities. However, a diet is called in the event of a case against the state. For a trial to proceed, two Aldermen, 18 jurors, and at least one secretary holding a doctor in law had to be present. Each side may also bring in legal representation.
Guilds of the Hanseatic League
See also: List of Hanseatic Guilds
There are nearly a thousand different guilds operating within the Hanseatic League. Most of these guilds are local mercantile alliances that wield some semblance of power in their constituent city-states but may not be known across the entirety of the Hanseatic League. They have limited means and are typically working in association with a larger guild. Most professions could have an associated guild, and it fell on the people within these professions to operate within the constraints and orders of a guild. Members of a guild that were found to have engaged in illegal practices or 'unacceptable' conduct may be expelled from the guild and prohibited from trading or practicing their trade in the offended city or, if expelled from a more important guild, Germany itself.
See also: List of Hanseatic Kontors
While the Hanseatic League has a far-reaching trade network, it holds a foreign policy of requesting Kontors in its greatest trade partners. They are typically Hanseatic ports with a number of buildings around the docks. They may be guild houses, banks, warehouses, workhouses, housing, markets, or any number of businesses. Hanseatic ships that dock in these ports enjoy many privileges, including being able to avoid tariffs. What the host state loses in tariff revenue, it more than makes up for in what the Kontors produce and trade, as well as what they bring in.
Guilds in Kontors typically ally with guilds in their host countries to buy large amounts of raw material and turn them into products. This product is then traded through Hanseatic markets and a cut of the money generated is given to the host city. These Kontors frequently employ mercenaries to ensure the grounds do not fall prey to theft or violence from rival guilds. The arrival of a Kontor in a city is typically great for revenue, but it can cause an upset in the host city's guilds, creating a large divide between those who will trade with the Germans and those who will not.