Message in a Bottle: Merchants’ letters, merchants’ marks and conflict management in 1533-34. A source edition
Edited by Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz and Stuart Jenks
This open-access book tells the story of how in 1533 a Dutch ship travelling to London was captured by pirates from the German city of Lubeck. Among the cargo taken by the pirates was a mailbag of 36 letters sent by people in Antwerp to recipients in London. This batch of letters was deposited in Lubeck’s city archive and only rediscovered nearly 500 years later. This book details this event and includes editions of these letters, which are a revealing and fascinating source on the everyday lives of merchants from the 16th century.
You can see one of these letters, written by Liesbet Raens to her husand Claes Rains:
Here is one of the letters, which William Butler in Antwerp wrote to his wife Brigit in London. Written on 21 July 1533:
Bedffello, I hartely recommend me unto you, sertyffying you that by the brynger off this letter Adryan Johnson, master of a shipp nameyd the Jamys of Andwarpe, I send 2 frykynges with sturgine, item 3 lytill firkynges mor, oon with olyves, a other with kapers, another with sukatt which be in all 5 peces all markeyd in blake with this marke in the margent. And ye must paye for fraught 12d, as by shippers boke doyth apee. And as oon of the barelles of sturgine and the sukatt, lett yt be opennyd for toa chice your gossoppis with all at your lying in, praying God to send you welle therto, which shuldbe gretly to my comfort to her off.
Farther ye shall understond that syns my comyng hither, I did send you a better by my cosine Pratt, wherwith I did send you a token whytch shortly I trust ye shall receve. And as shortly as I can I will bryng you a token my sollsse by the grace of God who have you in his mercyfull gouvernence.
your bedffellow William Butler
Who is this book for?
This book will appeal to people interested in two tups of history. First, the story of this pirate attack and the efforts to track down and return the stolen cargo is useful for those who study how governments work, and political relations in northwestern Europe. Secondly, the letters themselves offer a lot of information about the daily lives of merchants and thief families. These sources are not translated, so the reader will have to know Latin, Middle Low German and Middle Dutch to be able to understand all the texts.
This book was jointly written and edited by Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz and Stuart Jenks. Justyna is associate professor of medieval history at the University of Amsterdam, where she works on economic history in northern Europe during the late medieval and early modern periods. Click here to see her Academia.edu page.
You can listen to Justyna talking about the Hanseatic League in this episode of Gone Medieval.
Stuart is an emeritus professor of medieval history and medieval and modern economic history at the University of Erlangen. Click here to view his Academia.edu page.
Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz is also the head of the Premodern Conflict Management project, which looks at managing multi-level conflicts in commercial cities in northern Europe (c. 1350-1570). Click here to visit their website or follow them on Twitter @retro_conflicts
This book is open-access. You can read and download it through Brepols Online