Hanseatic League

Hanseatic League
   Established to control the activities and protect the privileges of German merchants trading in northern Europe, the Hanseatic League (or Hansa) was by the late fourteenth century a loose association of almost one hundred north German and Baltic towns. By the fifteenth century, Hansa merchants (known as Easterlings) enjoyed extensive trading privileges in England and operated trading posts in various English ports, including LONDON. A power at sea capable of organizing economic blockades and naval campaigns to support its members’ interests, the league, through its hostility toward the commercial policies of EDWARD IV, affected the course of the WARS OF THE ROSES in 1470–1471.
   By the 1460s, Hansa traders had largely frozen English merchants out of direct participation in trade with North Germany, the Baltic, Scandinavia, and Iceland. Meanwhile, league merchants had achieved a privileged position in England—their headquarters in London (known as the Steelyard) enjoyed extraterritorial status, and they were exempt from the poundage customs duty that all English merchants were required to pay. These privileges made the league highly unpopular in England, and especially in London, and explain the great national reputation won by Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, when he preyed upon Hansa shipping from his CALAIS base in 1460.
   In 1468, league involvement in the seizure of four English vessels led Edward IV and his COUNCIL to authorize the arrest and imprisonment of all Hansa merchants in London. This action, which was condemned even by English traders as arbitrary and counterproductive, initiated a damaging commercial and naval war that virtually halted English trade with Germany and the Baltic. In 1470, after Warwick concluded the ANGERS AGREEMENT with MARGARET OF ANJOU, Hanseatic naval attacks forced Edward IV to divert the English fleet from keeping watch for the earl’s return from FRANCE. In October, when Warwick’s landing forced Edward to flee the realm, a Hanseatic vessel pursued and almost caught Edward’s ship as it made for BURGUNDY. Although Warwick had been invested in the captured English ships, and had thus been a strong advocate of the 1468 decision to retaliate against the league, the earl, on his return to England in 1470, reaped the benefits of the unpopularity that decision had earned for Edward IV among the English merchant community (see Edward IV, Overthrow of).
   In early 1471, Edward obtained Hanseatic vessels to convey him to England in exchange for a promise to restore all the league’s trading privileges when he regained the throne (see Edward IV, Restoration of). However, once in power, the king reneged on the agreement, and the Hansa resumed the naval war. Edward’s attitude changed when he realized that peace with the league was necessary if he was to secure the English Channel in preparation for his intended invasion of France.
   Anglo-Hanseatic negotiations collapsed in 1472 when England rejected the league’s demands for full compensation for all ships and goods seized in 1468 and for complete restoration of all trading privileges formerly held in England. In 1474, Edward, anxious to begin the French campaign, put political interests before commercial ones and agreed to all the league’s terms in the Treaty of Utrecht. The agreement was a complete surrender on Edward’s part; aside from an end to the naval war, he achieved no improvement in the status of English merchants trading in Hanseatic territories, where the tax exemptions extended to Easterlings in England were not reciprocated. As a result of the treaty, English trade with Germany and the Baltic declined drastically, while Hansa trade with England reached record levels by the 1480s.
   Further Reading: Lloyd,T. H., England and the German Hanse, 1157-1611 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

Look at other dictionaries:

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  • Hanseatic League —    Since the 13th century, a league of towns existed in northern Germany with the aim of de fending their commercial interests in foreign countries. The term also designated the societies of German merchants in foreign towns. The influence of the …   Historical Dictionary of the Netherlands

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