Hansa Towns - Helen Zimmern

C2. King Frederick and King Gustavus Vasa.

In speaking of Christian's continued aggressions and his death, we have somewhat anticipated the course of our story. We left our League in the proud consciousness of having made two kings and expelled a third. It was but natural that they should now look for some reward in the gratitude of Frederick and Gustavus. They thought that the moment had come to regain their ascendency in the Scandinavian north. But they were to learn the old, old lesson once again: "Put not thy trust in princes."

Frederick was the first to show his colours. It was true that he had sworn to the Hansa not only restitution, but extension of all their ancient rights and privileges, but when they demanded as a first pledge of friendly feeling, that the Baltic should be absolutely closed to the Netherlanders, and that indeed no one might trade in that sea but themselves, Frederick met them with an inexorable refusal. We should be wrong if we regarded this refusal as a mere display of ingratitude on the king's part. He saw that the claim was detrimental to the interests of his own subjects, whom, after all, he was bound to consider first.

But he went much further. He dissolved the German Society that traded at Copenhagen and insisted that all Hanseatics should be subjected to the same laws as his own subjects. Further, he took under his protection the inhabitants of Bornholm, which island was under the rule of Lubeck, having been given up to that city by reason of forfeiture. For the natives groaned under the Hansa's rule, and declared "they would rather be under the Turks, than under the German, Christian, imperial city."

In vain did Lubeck protest to Frederick; in vain did she remind him of his promises, point to his treaties, and recall his written and spoken words. She had to ask herself bitterly what she had gained in return for the great sacrifices she had made to change the ruler of Denmark. The uncle had become the nephew, that was all, and worse than the nephew, because less impetuous and passionate, and, therefore, more determined and dangerous. Added to this, they fell out about religious matters. Frederick encouraged the new faith, while the Queen of Hansa, stubbornly conservative in all matters, remained until the spring of 1531 an adherent of the old religion.

In 1553 Frederick died. An interregnum of more than a year followed, during which the hopes of Lubeck to re-establish her authority in the north revived; and were fed and fanned by the Burgomaster Jurgen Wullenweber. It was to prove the last flickering of the Hansa's glory.

But before we speak of the agitated period of Wullenweber's ambitious plans, let us see how, on his part, Gustavus Vasa showed his gratitude to the town to which he owed so much.

Gustavus Vasa had even less consideration than Frederick. During his residence in Lubeck he had learned to appreciate the material results that sprang from trade, and was secretly resolved that his own subjects and not these strangers should benefit by the country's resources. At first he, like Frederick, accorded the Hansa munificent charters. Indeed, he could not do less than assent to all their demands; he was deeply their debtor for money advanced during his wars, for material as well as moral assistance. He had no gold or silver to offer them, but he could accord them the exclusive use of those gold mines, the Baltic and the Sound. The Hansa should have the trading monopoly "for ever and ever," so ran the words of the charter.

But as soon as Gustavus felt the crown firmly planted on his head, and had in part paid off his debt, he applied himself to securing the commercial independence of his country and to making the League understand the meaning of the words "for ever," when they occur in a promise. He resolutely set his face against the Hanseatic claims for monopoly. "Gustavus was an angel at first," piteously writes the Lubeck official chronicler; "Alas, that he should so soon have become a devil."

In open assembly, 1526, the king did not hesitate to speak the following words of unmistakable clearness: "We must," he said, "withdraw from the strangers their unrestricted liberty; we must open the Swedish harbours to all ships." Next year even more definite words were spoken in the assembly. It was decided "to curtail the Hanseatic privileges without further delay, as seriously prejudicial to the kingdom."

There was one way by which Lubeck could retain in leading strings the "vassals," as she proudly called them, who had grown over her head. This was by means of their still unpaid debts. But Gustavus worked unremittingly towards attaining this end. His country, which was poor, had been yet further impoverished by wars, but still he succeeded, by means of heavy taxation, in raising supplies. He taxed everything that he could think of. It is said even hazel-nuts were subjected to this burden. Nay he even persuaded various towns and communes to melt down their church bells in order to expunge the national debt. By these trenchant means he succeeded in reducing it to a small amount by the year 1532, and then threatened the Hansa with yet more repressive measures, if they ventured to persist in claiming their ancient privileges.

No wonder that the ill-humour of the Lubeckers grew from day to day, and that they used to say to each other, "This is our thanks for having made an ox driver a king."

But Gustavus never swerved from his fixed resolve to make an end of Hanseatic privileges and monopolies as far as concerned his kingdom. By the time of his death in 1560 the power of the League was broken in Sweden beyond all hope or possibility of revival.