STARGARD – A HANSEATIC TOWN
In the second half of the 14th century, Stargard became a member of the Hanseatic League and remained so until its decline.
The Hanseatic League was an organisation of towns whose aim was to gain and maintain joint trading privileges. The first trading guilds, or Hansa, appeared in the Netherlands during the 12th century, while an alliance between Lübeck and Hamburg agreed in 1241 marks the beginning of the League in the eastern Baltic. At its peak, the Hanseatic League had nearly 200 cities on its rosters, mostly port towns. From the conquest of Denmark in 1370 to the defeat of the Hanseatic fleet in 1533, the League was the leading trading power in northern Europe; however, military failures and infighting caused its gradual decline until only 9 towns attended the final meeting, held in 1669.
In the Duchy of Pomerania, 17 towns belonged to the Hanseatic League, the largest grouping in the Baltic region. Along with the other cities located in former Slavic lands, including Lübeck, Rostock and Wismar, they were known as the “Wendish district” (the Germans called western Slavs Wends). Lübeck was the undisputed leader of the League, with other Pomeranian towns Stralsund and Greifswald prominent, and also Szczecin, Stargard, Ko³obrzeg and Anklam (often representing other towns at meetings).
Stargard took a pragmatic view of Hanseatic membership, taking political or military action only for economic reasons, an example being the war between the Hanseatic League and Denmark (1360 – 1370). Had the town lost, it would have faced the complete collapse of its grain exports and would have been cut off from the herring fisheries, with the result that Stargard residents played an exceptionally active role at this time in League meetings. Stargard also belonged to the Cologne confederation, an association fighting against the Dane Waldemar, giving military support. The Hansa’s victory brought profits from the occupation of castles on the Sund and other income flowing from the peace treaty signed at Stralsund. Stargard’s seal can be seen at the bottom of this act. Stargard’s residents played a similarly active part a century later during a trade war with Szczecin and a dispute with the town of Stralsund. These conflicts threatened Stargard’s vital interests, in particular its maritime trade. The town’s sophisticated diplomatic corps swung into action to prop up the military efforts, with the result that Stargard gained the support of Dukes Warcislaw IX and Eric II, the bishop of Kamien Pomorski, and of the towns of Lübeck and Gdansk. Exhaustion with the fight between Szczecin and Stargard and mediation on the part of the Hanseatic towns and courts brought a truce in 1460, while reconciliation with Stralsund followed in 1486. Stargard’s residents were also no strangers to peacemaking, brokering a truce between the quarrelling Lübeck and Kolobrzeg in 1455. An illustration of the momentum gathering pace in Stargard’s economy was the establishment in 1436 at Dragør on the island of Amager near Copenhagen of a herring export company. This was a direct result of King Eric of Pomerania’s granting of privileges. In addition, the Augustinians erected a chapel at the site. Although as time went by the Hansa waned in influence, the Danish king Christian IV confirmed privileges for Stargard and several other towns as late as 1605. Modern day Stargard – a member of the New Hansa – continues its three-hundred-year-old tradition of participation in the League.