Pirates and beer

In Medieval Europe there were Vikings like Godfried the Sea-king. He was granted a kingdom, a heap of gold, and the hand of the daughter of the emperor of those days, hoping he would stop his plunders (1). This type of men did not drink wine, of course…
The pirates in our waters were true craft beer lovers. Ships laden with beer had the special interest of these folk. The famous pirate Stortebeker (around 1400) was probably from Groningen and got his name because it was said he could finish a large beaker of beer in one big swallow.
Beer city Hamburg got special privileges to handle the problem (2). The Hanseatic league was very much troubled by pirates and sent out a complete naval force to get Stortebeker. In 1402 he was beheaded in Hamburg.

Old drawing depicting the execution of the pirates.

Battle force
Stortebekers men were in fact an independent battle force. They had changing patrons or clients amongst whom was Aelbrecht van Beijeren, ruwaard (peacekeeper) of Holland. The pirates were given the name 'Victual-brothers' because they managed to supply food and beer to the besieged city of Stockholm.
About a century later the city-government of Gouda (in Holland) had to have their beer-ships guided by armed forces. A complete ship was lost to pirates and from then on the brewers had to pay for armed protection (3).

Careful sipping
Regulated privateering, with an official letter of approval, was once common practise at sea. During the 80 years war there was the Dunkirk privateers on the side of the Spaniards and the Watergeuzen (Water-beggars) on the side of the insurgents. The Water-beggars played a crucial role in the uprising and the birth of the Netherlands.

Young and married
Often overlooked aspect of pirates is the fact that they, like other sailors, were mostly young and married. They often had wives and children at home and reason for their piracy could for instance be that they simply were not paid for their work on board. Much research into the life and conditions of pirates was done by Dr. Margarette Lincoln (4).

One can imagine there wasn't always a careful sipping of the conquered beer and the same is suggested in an old rhyme:

Ick Joncker Sissingha
Van Groninga,
Dronck dees hensa,
In een flensa,
Door mijn kraga,
In mijn maga.

Me Junker Sissingha
From Groninga,
Drank this hensa,
In one flensa,
Through my collara,
In my stomagha.


Frederik Ruis

Please drink responsibly

Possible connection between Viking invasions and brewing with hops (map by WK4).

viking invasions



Das deutsche Reichs-Archiv
Joannes Christianus Lünig

(the original privileges are in Latin)

vor die Stadt Hamburg, die Bestraffung der See-Räuber betreffend, de Anno 1265

Privilegium vor die Stadt Hamburg, dass sie diejenigen See-Räuber, so die Handlung auff dem Meer und Elbe hinderten, und die nach Hamburg wollende Schiffe beraubeten, aussuchen, und in ihrem teritorio nebst allen Complicibus Straffen solle, de Anno 1355
Privilegium vor die Stadt Hamburg, dass sie Mörder, ingleichen See- und Land-Räuber auf der See, Elbe, und wo sie derer sonst hab-hafft werden kan, greiffen, und nach Befinden, an Leib und Leben straffen darff, de Anno 1468

Charters about the punishment of pirates by Hamburg authorities 1265, 1355 and 1468.



Geschiedenis der heeren en Beschrijving der stad van der Goude.
Meest uit oorspronkelijke stukken bij een verzameld door
Cornelis J. de Lange van Wijngaerden
Tweede deel (Google eBoek)
Van Cleef,


(In the year 1489 one had to have the beerships guided, the brewers had to pay for the convoy)



British Pirates and Society, 1680-1730
Dr. Margarette Lincoln
Ashgate Publishing,

pirates 2014


The principal navigations, voyages, traffiques & discoveries of the English nations:
made by sea or overland to the remote & farthest distant quarters of the earth at any time within the compasse of these 1600 yeares
Volume 1
Richard Hakluyt, S. Douglas Jackson
J. M. Dent & sons, ltd.,

An agreement made betweene King Henrie the fourth and the common societie of the Marchants of the Hans.

Item, that in the yeere of our Lorde 1395. Hans van Wethemonkule, Clays Scheld, Godekin Mighel, and one called Strotbeker, by force of armes, and by the assistance of the men of Wismer and Rostok, and others of the Hans, did vpon the Sea neere vnto Norway, wickedly and vniustly take from Iohn Tutteburie, fiue pieces of waxe, foure hundred of werke, and halfe a last of osmundes, and other goods, to the value of foure hundred seuentie sixe nobles.


Chronyck oft Historie van Oost-Frieslant
(Google eBoek)
Eggerik Beninga, Antonius Matthaeus


(Old document about Stortebeker in original Low-Saxon lanquage)



Het Nederlandsche volk:
geschetst in de verschillende tijdperken zijner ontwikkeling
(Google eBoek)
Willem Jacob Hofdijk
Gebr. Kraay,


den beruchten Groningschen Zeeroover Stortebeke

(the famous pirate from Groningen Stortebeke)



Größte Denkwürdigkeiten der Welt oder so genannte Relationes curiosae
Volume 3
(Google eBoek)
Everhard-Guernerus Happel
Gedruckt und verlegt durch Thomas von Wiering,


Pirates in 1659



Het staats-recht der vereenigde Nederlanden
Volume 2 (Google eBoek)
Saco Herman van Idsinga
Abraham Ferwerda,


History of Groningen
to protect merchant ships from pirates



History of the Pyrates
(Google eBoek)
Daniel Defoe

He has committed Pyracy upon the High Seas...
that he has been guilty of drinking Small-Beer



Bronnen tot de geschiedenis van den Oostzeehandel
Dr. H.A.Poelman
Eerste deel, eerste stuk

1440 June 13.
no beer...unless it is taken or robbed