The Hansa Towns by Helen Zimmern


Russia, July 2012 391When Tallinn was besieged by the forces of Ivan the Terrible, its beleaguered people begged the King of Denmark for help. He sent them a thousands sides of bacon, so that they wouldn’t go hungry. The author, German-born but British-raised and a naturalised British citizen, of this book, written in the 1880s, was terribly shocked that the Danes wouldn’t do any more to help their fellow Protestants, but the thought of the poor Estonians trying to fight off the Muscovite army with a stack of Danish bacon made me giggle.

Er, anyway. Back to the point! I’ve never read a history specifically of the Hanseatic League before. I tend to associate it with Henry VII and his various squabbles with it, but that’s just me being Anglocentric! Speaking of which, I read Hakluyt’s book on the voyages of Willoughby and Chancellor years ago, when I was 18, but it’d never occurred to me until reading Helen Zimmern’s book that the Hanse would’ve been narked about the development of trading links between England and Muscovy!

This is a Victorian book, and it’s very much of its time – hurrah for free trade and hurrah for Protestantism, etc! – but Victorian historians, with their glorious Whiggish style, tend to write rather entertaining books. The history of the Hanseatic League doesn’t sound as if it’d be particularly entertaining, but, in fact, it is.

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