Beckum and the Hanseatic League

The Westphalian agrarian town of Beckum was a member of the large medieval merchant league of the Hanseatic League. The town's citizens played an active part in the widespread trade, which mainly extended to the North Sea and Baltic regions. The oldest reference to Hanseatic activities is the will of the Beckum merchant Gerhard Schuttorp, who died on a trading trip to Stockholm in 1433. In 1438 we learn of the Beckum merchant Cord Grotehues, who was on his way to the Hanseatic Kontor in Bergen.

The historical sources show that citizens of Beckum participated in Hanseatic trade from the 15th century at the latest, and were also admitted to the four large Hanseatic trading centres in Bergen, Bruges, Novgorod and London.

The Hanseatic League as a federation of North German cities developed from individual merchant cooperatives and smaller Hansen, derived from the Germanic hansa = crowd, cohort. These Hansen were protective organisations for German merchants trading abroad. They monitored acts of violence against the merchants, controlled taxes, customs duties, weights and measures, settled disputes and only allowed their own merchants to enter the markets.

The association of merchants soon changed into an association of towns. From 1358 onwards, there is the first mention of the "steden van der dudeschen hense". This comprised about 70 - 80 active member towns and about 100 - 120 smaller towns that were members of the Hanseatic League. The first Hanseatic League meeting probably took place in 1366.

The cities of Dortmund, Soest, Münster and Osnabrück formed the so-called "Westphalian quarter of the Hanseatic League" under the domination of Cologne. In Riga there was the "large or merchants' quarter of Münster" and the "small or craftsmen's quarter of Soest".

In 1572, the Münster Hanseatic Quarter was divided into two sub-quarters, the Braem Quarter (up'm Brahm) with the headmaster town of Coesfeld and the Drein Quarter (up'm Drein) with the suburb of Warendorf. The Braem quarter included the Hanseatic towns of Bocholt, Borken, Dülmen, Haltern and Vreden, while the Drein quarter included Ahlen, Beckum, Rheine, Telgte and Werne.

The Hanseatic League's trade in goods made the Münsterland an important transit area between the trading metropolis of Cologne and the seaside towns on the North and Baltic Seas. Of the numerous north-south trade routes, one important route led via Osnabrück, Warendorf and Beckum to Soest; another from Münster via Hamm to Werl. The Schleswig riders from Soest, for example, will have travelled via Beckum. These merchants from Soest had their privilege over the herring trade confirmed by the Danish king in 1232. In addition to bulk fish, other imported products came to Westphalia: Wine, porst (wild rosemary), hops and other brewing products as well as furs, wax, potash. The counter-cargo exported from Westphalia consisted mainly of canvas, livestock products, grain, beer and - from the southern parts of the country - metal products.

To what extent Beckum participated in Hanseatic trade we can no longer determine today. In the heyday of the Hanseatic League, Beckum had a good economic structure and was not dependent on long-distance trade of its products. It probably seemed sufficient to participate to a certain extent in the trade in goods which the two Hanseatic long-distance trade routes allowed to flow through the town anyway. The representation of the Hanseatic claims was obviously left to the suburb of Warendorf, to which Beckum was subordinate as a Hanseatic by-city. In addition to its function as a suburb, Warendorf also had considerable advantages over other country towns due to its access to the navigable Ems.

The demarcation between Hanseatic and non-Hanseatic towns was always fluid. From the 15th century onwards, the Hanseatic towns complained increasingly that the trading privileges they had paid dearly for were also being used by non-Hanseatic towns and villages. Of all the Hanseatic towns, only 14 were still prepared to pay their dues in 1604. In October 1619, Münster demanded the contributions of its neighbouring towns in the Braem and Drein quarters for the last time.

Sensitive restrictions on maritime trade had already resulted around 1400 from the piracy of the Vitualienbrüder under Störtebeker and Michels (their buccaneering multiplied the price of salt herrings in 1394/95), but above all from the advance of English and Dutch merchants in the 15th century. The viability and internal dissolution of the old merchants' association, which was no longer given anyway, was accelerated by the Thirty Years' War (1618 - 1648).

However, this by no means meant a decline in trade, but merely its transformation. Westphalia benefited in particular from its geographical proximity to the Netherlands, which experienced its heyday in the 17th century. Like England and Spain, the Netherlands were strongly oriented towards maritime trade and shipping. The neglect of their own trade and the natural lack of raw materials meant good export opportunities for Westphalian goods.

The last Hansa Convention took place in Lübeck in 1669 and ended inconclusively. With this, the medieval trade alliance was finally extinguished. The three cities of Bremen, Hamburg and Lübeck, however, maintained their tradition as Hanseatic cities in their city names.

The new Hanseatic League

DIE HANSE is an active network of cities that historically belonged to the alliance of merchant cities, i.e. the historical Hanseatic League, or had a lively trade exchange with these cities. This association of cities was founded in 1980 in the Dutch city of Zwolle and has since become the world's largest voluntary association of cities.

Every year, an international Hansa Convention is held in one of the member cities. For the young people there is the project "Youth Hansa". The Hanseatic Office is based in Lübeck. Each member city sends delegates to the so-called delegates' conferences. The town of Beckum is also a member of the "New Hanseatic League".

Homepage of the New Hanseatic League

Westphalian Hanseatic League

Beckum is also a member of the Westphalian Hanseatic League, an association of currently 48 towns founded in 1983.

Website of the Westphalian Hanseatic League