The Hans, or Hanseatic League, is very ancient, some would derive the word from hand, because they of the society plight their faith by that action; others derive it from Hansa, which in the Gothic tongue is council; others would have it come from Hander see, which signifies near or upon the sea, and this passeth for the best etymology, because their towns are all seated so, or upon some navigable river near the sea. The extent of the old Hans was from the Nerve in Livonia to the Rhine, and contained sixty-two great mercantile towns, which were divided into four precincts. The chiefest of the first precinct was Lubeck, where the archives of their ancient` records and their prime chancery is still, and this town is within that verge; Cullen is chief of the second precinct, Brunswick of the third, and Dantzic of the fourth. The kings of Poland and Sweden have sued to be their protector, but they refused them, because they were not princes of the empire.
They put off also the King of Denmark with a compliment, nor would they admit the King of Spain when he was most potent in the Netherlands, tho afterward, when it was too late, they desired the help of the ragged staff; nor of the Duke of Anjou, notwithstanding that the world thought he should have married our queen, who interceded for him, and so it was probable that thereby they might recover their privileges in England. So I do not find that they ever had any protector but the great Master of Prussia; and their want of a protector did do them some prejudice in that famous difference they had with our Queen.
The old Hans had extraordinary immunities given them by our Henry the Third, because they assisted him in his wars with so many ships, and as they pretend, the king was not only to pay them for the service of the said ships but for the vessels themselves if they miscarried. Now it happened that at their return to Germany, from serving Henry the Third, there was a great fleet of them cast away, for which, according to covenant, they demanded reparation. Our king in lieu of money, among other facts of grace, gave them a privilege to pay but one per cent., which continued until Queen Mary’s reign, and she by advice of Sing Philip, her husband, as it was conceived, enhanced the one to twenty per cent.
The Hans not only complained but clamored loudly for breach of their ancient privileges con-firmed unto them, time out of mind, by thirteen successive kings of England, which they pre-tended to have purchased with their money. Bing Philip undertook to accommodate the business, but Queen Mary dying ‘a little after, and he retiring, there could be nothing done. Complaint being made to Queen Elizabeth, she answered that as she would not innovate anything, so she would maintain them still in the same condition she found them. Hereupon their navigation and traffic ceased a while, wherefore the English tried what they could do them-selves, and they thrived so well that they took the whole trade into their own hands, and so divided themselves (tho they be now but one), to staplers and merchant-adventurers, the one re-siding constant in one place, where they kept their magazine of wool, the other stirring and adventuring to divers places abroad with cloth and other manufacturies, which made the Hans endeavor to draw upon them all the malignancy they could from all nations.
Moreover, the Hans towns being a body politic incorporated in the empire, complained thereof to the emperor, who sent over persons of great quality to mediate an accommodation, but they could effect nothing. Then the queen caused a proclamation to be published that the easterlings or merchants of the Hans should be en-treated and used as all other strangers were within her dominations, without any mark of difference in point of commerce. This nettled them more, thereupon they bent their forces more eagerly, and in a diet at Ratisbon they procured that the English merchants who had associated themselves into fraternities in Em-den and other places should be declared monopolists; and so there was a committal edict published against them that they should be ex-terminated and banished out of all parts of the empire; and this was done by the activity of one Suderman, a great civilian.
There was there for the queen, Gilpin, as nimble a man as Suderman, and he had the Chancellor of Emden to second and countenance him, but they could not stop the said edict wherein the Society of English Merchant-Adventurers was pronounced to be a monopoly; yet Gilpin played his game so well, that he wrought underhand, that the said imperial ban should not be published till after the dissolution of the diet, and that in the interim the Emperor should send ambassadors to England to advise the queen of such a ban against her merchants. But this wrought so little impression upon the queen that the said ban grew rather ridiculous than formidable, for the town of Emden harbored our merchants notwithstanding and after-ward Stade, but they not being able to protect them so well from the imperial ban, they settled in the town of Hamburg. After this. the queen commanded another proclamation to be divulged that the easteriings or Hanseatie merchants should be allowed to trade in England upon the same conditions and payment of duties as her own subjects, provided that the English merchants might have interchangeable privilege to reside and trade peaceably in Stade or Hamburg or anywhere else within the precincts of Hans. This incensed them more, there-upon they resolved to cut off Stade and Ham-burg from being members of the Hans or of the empire; but they suspended this decision till they saw what success the great Spanish fleet should have, which was then preparing in the year eighty-eight, for they had not long be-fore had recourse to the King of Spain and made him their own, and he had done them some material good offices; wherefore to this day the Spanish Consul is taxed of improvidence and imprudence, that there was no use made of the Hans towns in that expedition.
The queen finding that they of the Hans would not be contented with that equality she had offered betwixt them and her own subjects, put out a proclamation that they should carry neither corn, victuals, arms, timber, masts, cables, minerals, nor any other materials, or men to Spain or Portugal. And after, the queen growing more redoubtable and famous, by the overthrow of the fleet of eighty-eight, the easterlings fell to despair of doing any good. Add hereunto another disaster that befell them, the taking of sixty sails of their ships about the mouth of Tagus in Portugal by the Queen’s ships that were laden with “ropas de contrabando,” viz.; goods prohibited by her former proclamation into the dominions of Spain. And as these ships were upon point of being discharged, she had intelligence of a great assembly at Lubeck, which had met of purpose to consult of means to be revenged of her thereupon she stayed and seized upon the said sixty ships, only two were freed to bring news what became of the rest. Hereupon the Pope sent an ambassador to her, who spoke in a high tone, but he was answered in a higher.
Ever since our merchants have beaten a peaceful and free uninterrupted trade into this town and elsewhere within and without the Sound, with their manufactures of wool, and found the way also to the White Sea to Archangel and Moscow. Insomuch that the premises being well considered, it was a happy thing for England that that clashing fell out betwixt her and the Hans, for it may be said to have been the chief ground of that shipping and merchandising, which she is now come to, and wherewith she hath flourished ever since. But one thing is observable, that as that imperial or committal ban, pronounced in the Diet at Ratisbon against our merchants and manufactures of wool, in-cited them more to industry. So our proclamation upon Alderman Cockein’s project of trans-porting no white cloths but dyed, and in their full manufacture, did cause both Dutch and ,Germans to turn necessity to a virtue, and made them far more ingenious to find ways, not only to dye but to make cloth, which hath much impaired our markets ever since. For there hath not been the third part of our cloth sold since, either here or in Holland.