Hansa Towns - Helen Zimmern

C6. The End of the Hansa's Dominion in England.

The Hansa had been more fortunate in England than in the Low Countries. Up to the middle of the sixteenth century nothing had occurred that had sensibly modified its old relationship with the English nation. Nor had the factory diminished in power or the commerce in importance. It is true that at various times, now the kings themselves, now the people, had grown restive under the heavy monopoly of the Hansa League; but, to the kings especially, the League with its riches, its command of ready money and of ships, was of great use, and all attempts at restriction of privilege ended in failure.

But as Russia became consolidated after she had thrown off the Tartar yoke, so England also gained in strength after she had once renounced the foolish desire of making herself mistress of France, and after the long civil war of the Roses was ended, and a new and peaceful reign inaugurated.

Henry VII. left the Hansa privileges intact. The same was the case under Henry VIII., who even confirmed and extended them. The patron of Max Meyer, the friend of the democratic burgomaster Wullenweber, found it to his own interest to have the theological and political support of the maritime Baltic cities, and was regardless of the interests and deaf to the entreaties of his native merchants. It is true that this hot-tempered and capricious monarch several times threatened the League with a restriction of their rights. Once indeed his threats seemed so likely to take effect that the Hamburgers, in alarm, advised the Steelyard authorities to remove from the factory all silver vessels and all ready money. However, these threats were not serious; they were perhaps but a ruse to extract more pecuniary or moral assistance from his allies.

The successive checks, however, which the League was encountering in other foreign countries were not without their reactionary effect upon England. Various discussions arose between Hanseatic and English merchants, and led to more or less violent squalls, which were certainly the prelude to the coming tempest.

The Hansa, for instance, complained that they had been suddenly forbidden to export English goods into foreign countries, that is to say, countries other than Germany proper. Above all, an attempt was made to prevent them from carrying English cloth into the Low Countries. This traffic the Merchant Adventurers, an association formed partly upon the pattern of the Hansa, wished to reserve to themselves alone.

The Hanseatics further revolted against the old-established custom that made them all responsible for infraction of privilege, and punished them for the wrong done by one or several of their cities against some individual Englishman.

On their side the English insisted with much bitterness that the German towns refused to render them justice within their dominions; that they had even laid violent hands upon such of their compatriots as were occupied in fishing in Ireland; and that they had, in the days of Christian II., harassed their navigation in the Baltic.

During the hostilities between Francis I. and Henry VIII. the mutual recriminations diminished. The German Empire supported the English king, and the League had one more opportunity of playing the old game that had so often turned to its advantage. Solicited by both parties to lend its support, it played off one against the other; and insisting upon the neutrality of its members, traded freely and advantageously with both combatants.

It is quite certain that, notwithstanding some vexations and disputes, King Henry VIII. of England remained until his death the staunch friend of the Hansa, as well as of the Low German towns that formed part of the Smalkaldic League.

The reign of his young son and successor was to witness the first serious shock to the Hansa's power. This boy, who ascended the throne at the early age of ten years, confirmed all the Hanseatic privileges on his accession. Destined to give some rude blows to the confederation, he conformed in the first years of his reign to the ways of his ancestors. One incident is worth mentioning in order to illustrate the immense influence which the Hansa had gained in England. It was the rule, contracted years ago, that the name of the Hansa should figure in all treaties between England and France.

[Illustration] from The Hansa Towns by Helen Zimmern


But after Edward had reigned a few years he lent willing ear to the requests of the Merchant Adventurers, all the more readily that their petitions were supported by Sir Thomas Gresham, the honoured founder of the London Exchange. This man made clear to the young king and his guardian, the Duke of Northumberland, that unless the Steelyard were destroyed, the price of exchange could not rise, because the fiscal privileges accorded to the Hansa weighed too heavily upon the English. Besides this, the men of the Steelyard were subjects of the emperor, whom the young Protestant king hated as a persecutor of his fellows in the purer faith.

Still the Hansa suspected no real danger from King Edward, and the less so, as they had completely acceded to his desire that they should abstain from all trade with Scotland. In April, 1551, a plot laid against the hated and envied strangers by the London burghers was discovered. In the course of the inquiry into the plot, it was needful to examine the Hansa's claims. Confiding in the goodwill of the king's councillors, the "New Hansa," as Sir Thomas Gresham called the Merchant Adventurers, poured forth a long catalogue of grievances against the League. It was stated that English merchants had been ill-treated in various Hansa cities, notably in Danzig and Stralsund; that the commerce of the English was hindered in all possible ways; and that serious loss was incurred by the royal treasury from the circumstance, suspected to be true, that the Hansa permitted persons foreign to their association to enjoy with them the benefit of their privileges.

In the list of complaints retailed before the king by the discontented burghers and merchants of London, and by the Merchant Adventurers who found themselves less favoured than these foreigners, an attempt was evident on the part of the English to place on one footing and to consider as equally prohibited, the fraudulent importation by the Germans of merchandise belonging to non-Hanseatics, and the importation by them of merchandise which belonged to them, but was not produced in their territory.

The fact was urged that, since the Hansa paid only the usual custom dues, even for the foreign products they imported, and for their exportation of English goods to lands outside the rule of the Hanseatic League, they were thus able to paralyse with the greatest facility all English competition in these different lands.

Certainly nothing better justifies the murmurs of the islanders against the foreigners than a comparison of their various commercial transactions. From these it appears that the English themselves, in 1551, exported 1,100 pieces of native cloth as compared with 44,000 pieces exported by the Hansa League in the same year.

It is true that all these complaints were not new. But this time they fell upon more fruitful soil. The government were perhaps all the more ready to give an attentive ear, as of late the national commerce had taken a very vigorous start, so that the royal treasury might hope for considerable receipts, even if the Crown should lose the duties paid to it by the members of the League.

In consequence the representative members of the Steelyard were cited before the Privy Council, which after a very brief examination of the claims brought forward by the Hansa, decided hastily (February 23, 1552) "that the Hansa, an illegal body, the names and origin of whose members were unknown, had by importation and adulteration of foreign goods forfeited the privileges accorded them by Edward VI."

The following day, also in Privy Council, the suppression of all the old Hanseatic privileges was decreed and the League placed on an equality with all other foreigners, none of whom had special favours granted them. This decision seemed to promise that at last the English would gain pre-eminence over their redoubtable rivals.

Meantime, the Hanseatic Diet, informed of this step on the part of the English Government, sent over an ambassador to treat with the king and Council. The result of his efforts was that, in July of the same year, the Hansa's privileges were re-established provisionally "as far as was reconcilable with the justice, fairness, and honour of the king"—so ran the clause.

Of all the negotiations a detailed and interesting account has been preserved to posterity in the Diary of the young King Edward, one of the most interesting documents for the knowledge of his short reign.

The concession granted to them made the members of the Steelyard think, and very rightly, that it would be well for them to put their own house in order, and of their own accord to initiate various reforms in their body, reforms much needed, for complaints against them had been loud and long. They secretly hoped to be in this wise restored to their former favoured position.

The disorders, however, in the body of the Steelyard were not, on the whole, those from which other foreign factories suffered. The taxes and other enforced contributions, both from residents and from the towns trading with England, were punctually paid, and the finances of the establishment were flourishing. The complaints, moreover, addressed to the Diet, that the members of the Steelyard loved luxury, wine, women, and gambling too well, and that they rebelled against their semi-monastic life, were not more frequent from England than elsewhere.

The difficulties were chiefly that trade regulations were not faithfully observed; that rules of the strictest nature, on which largely depended the Hansa's success, were circumvented and disregarded. For instance, no man who had not attained his majority was by statute allowed to become a member of the League and trade on his own account; nor was one who had not learnt English for at least six months. This latter precaution was the more requisite, as past experience had taught that, by ignorance of the native language, these men were apt to compromise the interests of the factory. Then there were other abuses that led to grave results, such as trading illicitly with natives and then absconding with their debts unpaid; the whole factory in such cases becoming responsible for the debts.

In 1553, therefore, the members of the Steelyard drew up a series of new statutes which they proposed to lay before the King of England for approval. If these minutes are well considered it will be seen that whatever else was dead or moribund, Hanseatic astuteness was not. The new laws, it is true, tended to abolish the abuses that had crept into the use of their privileges, but they did not make the least sacrifice of the liberties that the Hansa had acquired in the course of years.

King Edward, however, seemed little inclined to consider these statutes, or to revoke permanently his somewhat arbitrary decision—a decision undoubtedly just towards his subjects. Then happily for the Hanseatic League, though not for his country, he died in this same year, and the crown passed to his sister, the fanatical persecutor of Protestants, Bloody Queen Mary, as the popular mouth has named her.

The new sovereign speedily made it evident that she meant in all respects to pursue a different policy from that of her predecessor. The first to fall was the Duke of Northumberland, the pronounced enemy of the Hansa. Immediately after, the queen showed by various signs that she was graciously disposed towards these strangers, who had boldly greeted her proclamation as queen against her rival, Lady Jane Grey, by draughts of Rhenish wine liberally bestowed upon the populace at the gates of her capital. On the occasion of her triumphal entry into London they were foremost in welcoming her with pomp and splendour, as we have already mentioned in a former chapter.

Scarcely was the queen firmly seated on her throne, than the Syndic General of the Hansa, Dr. Sudermann, waited upon her, attended by councillors from some of the chief Hansa cities. The result of their representations was that one of the first acts of the new queen's reign was to annul the royal statute of Edward VI. that so grievously threatened the League. This almost unexpected good result was, it is whispered, not due merely to Queen Mary's reactionary policy, but also to the corrupting influence of Hanseatic gold, judiciously distributed.

Our League thus recovered its entire liberties and rights in the matter of export and import, notwithstanding the opposition of Parliament, of the Lord Mayor of London, and of the citizens. It is therefore not astonishing that they were willing to show themselves liberal on the occasion of King Philip's entry as husband of the English queen; and that in order to maintain the favour of this couple, various cities, especially Lubeck, showed themselves far from friendly to Protestant refugees who sought protection in their precincts.

A valuable memorandum, drawn up by the Syndic Sudermann and happily preserved to our times, gives a vivid picture of what was implied by the Hanseatic privileges in England.

Taking merely into account one article of their commerce, English cloth, it appears from this report that from the month of January to the month of November, 1554, the Hansa had exported from England 36,000 pieces of cloth, as against 1,100 exported by the English themselves, a third dyed and two-thirds in the rough; that they only paid for the right of exit threepence each piece, while other foreigners paid five shillings and ninepence; that they could use their own servants for packing and expediting merchandise, and so were relieved of various custom dues; that had they not possessed these privileges they would have had to buy this cloth on the Antwerp market, paying about 1 sterling more for the same; that they further gained 1 on each undyed piece, which they alone were allowed to export in this state, and which they resold after having had it dyed. If it be further considered that in reality they paid less than threepence a piece in the pound as custom duties, because the price of goods, fixed in ancient statutes, had gone up, while the Hansa still paid at the old figure; if, in short, this and various other matters be taken into account, it is no wonder that Syndic Sudermann could prove that on English cloth alone the Hansa earned, above that made by other foreigners who traded in this branch, a sum of about 61,000 sterling.

Small wonder, therefore, that the trade was as much coveted as it was prosperous, and that the mayor and municipal council of London did not cease from laying their complaints before the queen. They literally pestered her with petitions and demands on this subject.

For some months the Hansa succeeded in averting the storm from their heads, but finally the leading members of the Steelyard found themselves suddenly cited to appear before the Queen's Privy Council, and had to listen to a long catalogue of grievances drawn up by their accusers.

The sum total of these grievances was, that the Hansa did not contribute sufficiently to the resources of the English Crown; that it was prejudicial to the English navy, because it refused to employ any vessels but its own; that it harmed the very quality of English cloth, for the makers, seeing the Hansa would be sure to buy, presented them often with inferior qualities. An amusing complaint is the following: Whereas, say the memorialists, the Hanseatics are all bachelors, they greatly injure English trade at Antwerp, because the increased leisure this state gives them, allows of their trading more extensively and actively. Further, they once more brought forward the time-honoured objection that the Hansa would permit of no reciprocity, and while nominally allowing the English to settle in their towns, crippled their trade by heavy taxation and vexatious regulations.

That these assertions were not without foundation, not even the Hansa could deny. They could but point to ancient charters to justify them in a measure. The result of this last formal complaint was, however, that the Privy Council decided that henceforth the Hansa should abstain from importing English cloth into the Netherlands, and that the quantity of undyed goods they might export be reduced by two-thirds. They further added that any infraction of these orders would result in entire suppression of all privileges.

The Hansa, who did not easily own themselves beaten, and who desired at all costs to hinder their rivals from supplanting them, sent various embassies in the course of the next few years to the Court of England. They also once more attempted the agency of bribery and corruption by means of Hansa gold, to attain their ends. In vain. Embassies, seductions, led to no result; not even a letter which King Philip of Spain was induced to indite to his wife, the Queen of England, on their behalf, could modify by one iota the decision taken by the Privy Council.

Despairing of a good result from these measures, the League resolved to have recourse to its ancient mode of exerting pressure upon obstinate peoples, by threatening to break off all intercourse with them. The measure was, however, likely to have brought destruction to them in England; that it did not was due to the circumstance that the towns were no longer, as in past days, blindly obedient to the orders issued by the Hanseatic Diet. The Hansa, issuing such an order, forgot that they were no longer the exclusive masters of the North and East.

Such was the state of things when Queen Mary died, and Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen, took into her firm and able hands the reins of the English government (1558). It is true that she gave a gracious reception to the Hanseatic embassy that waited on her in May, 1560; but between a gracious reception and a confirmation of the ancient privileges of the League the Hansa were to learn that there lay an abyss she would never bridge over.

That the Hansa's power was effectually broken in England ultimately was due to that queen and to her wise statesman, Lord Burleigh.

It was soon felt by the nation at large that, with the advent to power of Elizabeth, a new spirit was infused into English life and enterprise. After a hundred years of weakness, England awoke to renewed life and vigour, and with vigour awoke ambition.

The Merchant Adventurers, encouraged by Gresham, put forward their desires; and they, too, asked that the Hansa should be kept down. These desires were listened to by the patriotic sovereign. She reconfirmed all the new tariffs with which the Hansa had been charged by Edward VI., and she further made various demands which the Hansa were most unwilling to concede; for they implied a strict investigation of the affairs of their factory—an investigation that they had no wish to provoke.

In the following years an active correspondence took place between the English queen and the Hansa cities, which made it most emphatically manifest to the latter that they must renounce all their antiquated pretensions; but that, on the other hand, the English queen was willing to place them in the category of the most-favoured nation clause, so that they would still pay less than other foreigners.

The Steelyard authorities, being on the spot and better able, therefore, to estimate the bearings and value of Elizabeth's letters and threats, strongly advised the Hansa towns to conform to the queen's concessions and demands. They foresaw that worse things were in store were this not done. But the League—to whom the smallest and most equitable sacrifice always seemed an enormity—resolved, before yielding, to try as a last resource what could be effected by endeavouring to obtain the intervention of the emperor.

It is strange that, after the lapse of so many years, experience should not have taught the Hanseatics that from the German emperor no effective help could be obtained. In this case, as in many previous ones, the reigning sovereign contented himself by writing a letter of remonstrance—a letter so worded that it was easily manifest to the recipient that words would not be followed by deeds. Both the Hansa and the emperor involuntarily revealed that, even after the ancient special privileges were withdrawn, the League would still enjoy great favour in England.

The emperor's letter was presented to Elizabeth by the aldermen and councillors of the Steelyard. The queen's privy councillors, and especially the trusty William Cecil, Lord Burleigh, in reply, made it very clear to the deputation that they had nothing to hope for beyond the last concessions offered.

Burleigh was the special object of the Hansa's hate. This arose, perhaps, from the fact that he had, according to a contemporary reporter, insulted one of their ambassadors by accosting him "with almost indecent rough speech." But Burleigh's speech can scarcely deserve these epithets, if the complaints and remarks are founded on his saying, that it was a bad shepherd who desired to pasture the cattle of strangers more richly than his own flocks; nor could they complain that they were excluded, so long as they might trade as freely as the English, and more freely than the French, Flemings, Dutch, Scotch, and other nations.

The Hansa, blind, unwise, stuck to its old policy, and like Shylock demanded the very letter of its ancient bond. It is true that Elizabeth insisted, on her side, that her subjects should be favoured in the Hansa towns; that this reciprocity should be granted was already a clause in the Treaty of Utrecht, concluded, it will be remembered, in 1474, but it had never been carried into effect.

It must be admitted that, all things considered, Queen Elizabeth treated the Hanseatics with a good deal of consideration and long-suffering, and demanded from them no more than what she had a right to demand. When they refused the offer to be placed on an equal footing with the English the queen issued an order that their export of English cloth should in future not exceed five thousand pieces. Cologne tried to retaliate by putting on an import tax, but it was an isolated measure, and had no effect.

In a word, the victory remained in the end with the English Government, on the side of which fought, not only its own vigorous organization, but also the disunion among the Hansa towns, which grew more serious daily, and the grave disorders that existed in the Steelyard itself.

For some time past serious complaints had been heard against the alderman of the factory, Peter Eiffler, a man who filled this high post for several consecutive years. He was accused among other things, of having tampered with the funds of the establishment, of having administered the factory without the help, or advice of the council; and of having divided unfairly among the Hanseatic merchants, the five thousand pieces of cloth permitted to them for export. Further, he was reproached for having in 1563 made a journey, leaving the Steelyard and the care of the treasury to young men incapable of so high a trust, who had done great damage to the factory.

After all these accusations had been duly sifted, this unfaithful servant of the Hansa was of course deposed from his post of trust, but his dismissal brought no fresh order into the shattered condition of things. As is frequently the case in the face of a public calamity, public spirit was extinct. Each individual thought only of himself, and of what he could rescue from the impending general ruin. On the one hand, there was the selfishness of the individual towns; on the other, the selfishness of the foreign factories. The London Steelyard, seeing that the fabric of the League was tottering, tried to save its individual existence out of the general wreck. It thought to acquire an independent life, and act and trade on its own account. Hence when the League knocked at the doors of its strong-room, to obtain the funds that should prolong or, as they hoped, even dispel the death agonies of the other foreign factories, whether by bribing nobles and kings, or by sending embassies to foreign courts, the Steelyard was careful not to listen to these demands, thinking of the future, when it might need all funds for itself. It was thus that in 1567, the London factory, in reply to a reprimand sent it by Syndic Sudermann for delaying to pay a sum of over one thousand florins into the public fund, made known to the town of Lubeck that this delay must not be imputed to it as a fault, that the times were not favourable to saving, that the annual expenses of the Steelyard amounted to eight hundred pounds sterling, and that other sums no less high had to be expended by it, in maintaining the factories at Lynn and Boston. The memorandum went on to explain that, if the English establishments were not kept in good repair, they would become forfeit to the English Crown. Then, again, the Hansa taxes had grown so heavy that no one could bear them. If the Diet wished, the Steelyard would be quite ready annually to send its accounts to Lubeck for revision, in accordance with the ancient usage, which however did not seem very firmly established; but, on the other hand, they would prefer not to act thus, since they feared lest their account-books should fall into the hands of their enemies, who by inspecting them, would gain an undesirable insight into Hanseatic commerce, and might thus perchance despoil them of their last privileges. The memorandum winds up by saying, that the Steelyard would feel greatly obliged if the League would refrain in future from making demands for pecuniary help in times of public difficulty.

If this was not the language of insubordination, it is difficult to say what else would be. Whither had vanished the blind obedience which the League had ever exacted, and till now obtained from all its members, and which was the source of its greatness and strength?

Whether all that was stated by the Steelyard in this memorandum was true, it is difficult to decide. Substantially no doubt it was so, but in the reports of the Hansa Diets during these years, we come across frequent complaints of the prevarication practised by the aldermen of the London factory.

Perhaps we must not blame either the towns, or the factories too much for yielding to the all-powerful instinct of self-preservation. When the Hanseatic towns as a whole recognized that they were impotent to demolish the rising commerce of England, or to break the firm will of its lady sovereign, they were almost forced to desert a cause which was a losing one, and to work each for their own separate advantage.

Hamburg was the first among the confederate cities to recognize whither matters were tending, and to adjust its policy with a due regard to the new spirit of the age. It concluded a convention on its own account with England. Matters came about in this wise. The chief foreign trade of England was gradually passing into the hands of the Merchant Adventurers. Now to this company the Netherlands were closed, owing to the conflict raging between Elizabeth and King Philip of Spain. Hence these merchants had to seek elsewhere the depot which they had found in the Low Countries for their English merchandise. Owing to its situation and its excellent harbour the town of Embden, which did not belong to the Hanseatic League, seemed to unite in itself all requisite conditions, and it was indeed towards this place that English commerce was directed. In consequence Embden, within a brief space, grew most prosperous.

This prosperity, however, speedily proved noxious to the city of Hamburg, till then one of the great staple towns for the traffic in English woollens. Seeing its gains passing thus into the hands of strangers, the city deliberated whether the situation could not be changed, and whether it would not be wiser, more lucrative, and altogether better, to open its own gates to the Merchant Adventurers, conceding to them a factory, various privileges, and great commercial liberties. Thus it would secure the double profits arising from their sojourn, and from the commerce that passed through.

In 1567, Hamburg put this project into execution, concluding a formal treaty with the Merchant Adventurers for the space of ten years. It was cautious at first not to name a longer term. The experiment was but tentative, as it assured those of its burghers, who, clinging to the old Hanseatic ideas, opposed the scheme.

That the project was also opposed by the Hansa Diet will be easily inferred. Bitter reproaches were addressed to Hamburg by the Diet held at Lubeck in 1572. They were told that they had been guilty of treason to the common cause. Their delegates replied with warmth, rejecting this reproach. They recalled to the memory of their hearers the treaty of Utrecht which stipulated reciprocity for England, and they endeavoured to prove that their townsmen had acted, not only in no spirit of narrow egoism, but in the interests of the entire League, since in consequence of their treaty with the Merchant Adventurers, the export of undyed cloths from England had been permitted in larger quantities, and that the German waters were freed from British pirates. Further they contended that every town had a right to think also of its own interests. Embden had received the Merchant Adventurers, and had extracted profit from them; why then should such profit be grudged to a town that was a portion of the Hansa?

The delegates were able to point also to the tangible fact, that in the short space of the first two years, the factory of the Merchant Adventurers had turned over in Hamburg, the sum of three and a half million of dollars.

This was all well and good for Hamburg, but beyond question the treaty still further disturbed the relations of the cities towards each other, and helped on the pending catastrophe. And the worst of all was that Elizabeth could not be induced to reconfer the old Hanseatic privileges, even after her subjects had been received by Hamburg.

Still, for the moment, nothing was changed with regard to the new position taken up by Hamburg, though the agitation on the subject within the League itself continued unabated. When the ten years of treaty were ended, and the Hansa was desirous of renewing the convention, then the storm broke forth with fresh fury. Appeal was even made by the Hanseatic League to the Emperor Maximilian II., who decreed solemnly that no town might treat with England without the consent of its allies.

Still the Queen of England did not at once break off all relations with the Hanseatic League. She temporized, not being willing to lose for her subjects the advantages gained at Hamburg which she hoped to see further extended. The Hansa, on its part, demanded that the queen should re-confirm its privileges; then it would accord a factory to the English. The queen replied that she wished first to see the factory accorded; then it would be time enough to speak of the privileges.

In this wise the negotiations did not progress. Each of the parties was rolling the stone of Sisyphus, as Elizabeth herself remarked. It was quite evident that at that moment the queen was resolved not to resort to extreme measures, and though she threatened, she did not carry out her threat of putting the Hanseatics on the same footing with other strangers. The moment had not yet come. It came later, when she could do without certain of her imports, such as raw materials for ship-building and for stores of war, among which latter gunpowder took a great place. Then, too, before the defeat of the Spanish Armada had occurred, England did not feel her maritime power great enough to venture a coup de force.

Meanwhile, each new meeting of the Hansa Diet put in a stronger light the radical difference between the policy pursued respectively by the towns of Lubeck and Hamburg. This difference may be said to form the tame epilogue to the great tragedy of Wullenweber's failure and death.

The Lubeckers wanted the old privileges, the whole privileges, nothing but the privileges. What cared they for the changed condition of the world's affairs? Syndic Sudermann's ideal was the restoration of the good old customs in the factories, the continuance of every measure that in the past had made the Hansa great. But Sudermann was no military hero, who could win back privileges at the point of the sword, or "hold down foreign nations under his thumb," as the secretary of the Steelyard expressed himself. He was a learned, well-nourished, well-paid Hanseatic Syndic, thorough, pedantic, earnest, long-winded. It is on record that one of his memoranda destined for the Imperial Diet was so long, that a hundred and fifty dollars had to be paid in the Imperial Chancery for having it transcribed—an enormous sum in those days of cheap labour—and that the imperial councillors roundly declared that they would not read it at all, if it were not shortened. He it was who on all occasions represented Lubeck as her spokesman, and the ideas he expressed were those of the city.

Hamburg, on the other hand, could not refrain at times from remarking that the kingdom of England, like other kingdoms, no longer presented the same aspect as two or three hundred years ago, and that hence account must be taken of modifications, and actions be regulated accordingly. Its delegates cited the case of Antwerp, pointing out that that town's prosperity dated from the days it had opened its gates to the English Merchant Adventurers. Till then the houses had been thatched with straw, and the inhabitants had subsisted on the profits accruing from agriculture and fishing. And now what commercial activity, what a busy life was to be seen in the marts of Antwerp, what wealth was found among all classes of its burghers! To cite one instance alone: dwellings that fifty years ago were taxed at a rental of forty to sixty dollars, now cost eight hundred dollars.

But Lubeck would not recede from its old standpoint, and would not relinquish its old conservative ideas. It seemed to have none of that elasticity of mind that can adapt itself to changed conditions, and profit by them. It could but plead repeatedly—how far it was in earnest it is hard to tell—that the government of the League might be taken from off its shoulders, for the burden had grown too heavy. As a substitute it proposed either Cologne or Bremen. It could not find words to express the sorrow which Hamburg and other cities had caused by relinquishing the general weal for their own private good. It said it would itself retire from the League, in which the old sentiments no longer lived, were it not held to its duty, or what it deemed its duty, by the force of old memories. It could not realize that its system was antiquated, its ideas played out. Like some old people, it could neither give way gracefully, nor assimilate intelligently the new thoughts that sway the younger and rising generation. Like the old, too, it overlooked the fact that the young must win, time being in their favour.

In a great Diet held in 1591 the following resolution was actually put forward, namely, "that each town present should declare whether it intended to remain Hanseatic." This question was indeed significant. It should be mentioned that during the sitting of this Diet Syndic Sudermann died—a man who deserved well of the League, even if his opinions were sometimes narrow and mistaken, and not up to the level of the current ideas. Like Wullenweber, he had reaped nothing but ingratitude in return for his ardent and patriotic labours.

It is remarkable that Cologne was the first of the cities to reply in the affirmative, that she wished to remain in the League, Cologne ever so insubordinate and stubborn. Bremen also acquiesced, provided twenty more cities sided with Cologne. They stated that they decided thus for the sake of their posterity, since, having once acted, they must go through with it at all costs.

While all these dissensions were going on in the heart of the League itself, England continued in its onward path, evincing that feverish activity of commercial enterprise that has ever distinguished it. Elizabeth sent ambassadors in all directions, courted and bribed the German princelings, distributed her gold everywhere, and by means of her spies neglected no means of making herself feared or beloved, or both.

The League meanwhile had to look on with impotence, for it lacked resources to do otherwise. Day by day it was losing its influence. It is true that both the Hanseatic and the Imperial Diet tried to prevent the English from settling in Germany; but the towns that saw their profit in receiving them either openly or secretly disobeyed commands which neither party could enforce. As a sample of the replies given to the Diet by the Hanseatic cities may be cited the case of Stade, which, when called to account, answered "That Almighty God had put the English in their way, and thus sent them some means of subsistence, in order that the citizens might get a bit of bread, and keep off the pangs of hunger."

Thus year by year England's influence increased and that of the Hansa declined. Then occurred a further cruel blow to the League. In consequence of the strained relations between England and Spain, Hanseatic trade in that country and in Portugal had risen to some importance. The Hansa supplied those countries with grain, munitions of war, and shipbuilding materials. Queen Elizabeth naturally looked on all this trade with an evil eye, and regarded it as so much support accorded to her enemies. She did not fail to make the League acquainted with her displeasure, even threatening to treat its cargoes as contraband of war. The Hansa in its turn pleaded that it merely exercised the right of neutrals, and persisted in not abandoning a lucrative trade.

Then came the defeat of the invincible Armada which left to England the empire of the seas, and gave her a boldness and self-confidence which she has happily never since lost. Sixty Hanseatic vessels were encountered by Norris and Sir Francis Drake about to enter the mouth of the Tagus. They were laden with grain to provision the Spaniards. These were seized, and no subsequent negotiations ever succeeded in causing Elizabeth to release her hold either on the vessels or their cargo.

Needless to say, that this proved the last straw in the load of Hanseatic grievances against the queen.

Meanwhile the King of Spain, to compensate the League, and to win it to his side, offered to enter into a firm alliance with it. But they would not break with the Netherlands, now in full revolt against King Philip. There remained only the last and almost hopeless resort, to appeal once more to the empire.

On August 1, 1597, after fifteen years of nearly useless solicitation, and when it was quite too late to remedy matters, the Emperor Rudolph caused an imperial mandate to be issued at Prague, which enjoined the English to quit the Empire within the space of three months. This mandate was couched in proud and fierce terms against the English queen, and menaced with severe punishment those Germans who, on German soil, should put themselves into communication with the hated Merchant Adventurers of England.

Great was the joy of Lubeck and of several other towns at this order, and they kept strict watch that the imperial mandate should be obeyed. They hoped from it the most salutary effects in modifying the resolutions of Elizabeth.

They had reckoned without their host, or rather they had not duly judged the character of their opponents. Driven from Germany, the English found a refuge in the Dutch town of Middleburgh, whence they conducted a lucrative trade with the empire, awaiting some happy chance that would be sure to arise from the now ever active discord in the League, and that might reinstate them on the shores of the Elbe and the Rhine.

Elizabeth meanwhile, in 1598, driven to yet further exasperation by a Hanseatic attempt to hinder the export of grain to England and Holland, sent word to the merchants residing at the Steelyard that they must depart out of these premises and quit England within the space of fourteen days. The Mayor of London, attended by the Sheriffs, formally presented to the authorities of the Steelyard this decree, which authorized them to take possession of the building and all that pertained to it.

Ten days after this compulsory taking of possession the Germans filed out of the Steelyard in orderly procession. The authorities wrote to the Hanseatic Diet, stating that, after duly protesting against this forcible act, they "marched out of the gate, the alderman at the head, and we following him, sad in our souls, and the gate was closed behind us; nor should we have cared to have remained another night within the walls. God be pitiful."

Thus the last sacrifice was consummated, which had been long demanded by Sir Thomas Gresham and his friends, and which the now flourishing condition of English trade required. In order that the English merchant might thrive unchecked, he had to drive away from his midst his old masters, the Hansa, the men who had taught him how to trade, a lesson the pupil had learnt too well. Such was the mournful end of the German Guildhall on the banks of the Thames; an institution older than the Hanseatic League itself; the most honourable monument which Germany could point to abroad of her strength and enterprise. Yet it is, perhaps, rather the fact that it endured so long, than that it perished, that should surprise us. It is certainly wonderful, and much to the credit of the English, that musty parchments sealed with the seals of the Plantagenets, should have been honoured so late, honoured when England's commerce and navy could boast men such as Sir Thomas Gresham, Sir Francis Drake, and Sir Walter Raleigh.

Of course the Hanseatic League did not at once give up all for lost. They intrigued, they negotiated, they even flattered themselves with hopes of success. Then suddenly the news of Elizabeth's death broke up a congress held with this end in view. The Hanseatics at once cast glances full of hope at her successor. They trusted he might prove less inexorable. Experience had often shown them that with a change of ruler came a change of policy.

But they proved greatly mistaken. The reply received by the first embassy they addressed to James I. rudely shattered all their hopes. They resumed their intrigues at home, trying to stir up the emperor to hinder the export of wool from Germany, and to encourage the manufacture of woollen goods at home.

It was the great De Witt who wisely said that the one weak point in the German Hansa was that it was not backed by manufacturing interests. They were merely carriers and intermediaries, and this made itself felt in the days of their decline.

Negotiations, entreaties leading to nothing, and the Germans being impotent to hinder, the English soon found their way again into the empire with their persons and their goods, and once more Hamburg was the first to receive them formally and to conclude a treaty with them. This time neither the emperor nor the League protested. It is true the Steelyard in London was ultimately restored to the Germans, but the old privileges enjoyed with it were gone for ever. Nor was it, when restored, regarded any longer as the property of the Hanseatic League such as we have known it—a compact body, willing and able to defend its rights. It was rather the property of the Germans living in England, and this it remained. In 1853 the Steelyard property was sold to an English company for building purposes for the sum of 72,500, by the cities of Lubeck, Bremen, and Hamburg, the sole heirs of the once powerful Hanseatic League. The present Cannon Street Station stands on part of the site.

With the death of Elizabeth the history of the Hanseatic League as such practically comes to an end in England. Then followed, quickly afterwards, the Thirty Years' War, which gave the League a mortal blow, from which it never recovered.

Even before the last stroke fell, John Wheeler, a secretary of the association of Merchant Adventurers, had declared regarding the Hanseatic cities (1601), "Most of their teeth have fallen out, the rest sit but loosely in their head." His judgment was verified all too soon.