Pier Gerlofs Donia

Pier Gerlofs Donia

Etching of Grutte Pier, from 'Chronycke ofte Historische Geschiedenis van

Frieslant' published in 1622.[1]
Born 1480
Kimswerd, Frisia
Died 1520
Sneek, Frisia
Nationality Frisian
Other names Grutte Pier
Occupation farmer
Known for Leading a Frisian rebellion between 1515 and 1519
Spouse(s) Rintsje Syrtsema
Children Gerlof Piers Donia and Wobbel Piers Donia
Parents Gerlof Piers Donia and Fokel Sybrants Bonga

Pier Gerlofs Donia (c.1480 – 1520) was a Frisian warrior, pirate, and rebel. He is best known by his West Frisian nickname "Grutte Pier" ("Big Pier" in the Old Frisian spelling), or by the Dutch translations "Grote Pier" and "Lange Pier", or, in Latin, "Pierius Magnus", which referred to his legendary size and strength.

His life is mostly shrouded in legend. Based upon a description now attributed to Pier–s contemporary Petrus Thaborita, the 19th-century historian Conrad Busken Huet wrote that Grutte Pier was

a tower of a fellow as strong as an ox, of dark complexion, broad shouldered, with a long black beard and moustache. A natural rough humorist, who through unfortunate circumstances was recast into an awful brute. Out of personal revenge for the bloody injustice that befell him (in 1515) with the killing of kinsfolk and destruction of his property he became a freedom fighter of legendary standing.[2]


[edit] Early life and family

Grutte Pier was born Pier Gerlofs Donia (Pier Gerlofs), around 1480 in Kimswerd near the city of Harlingen, Wonseradeel in Friesland, Netherlands. Pier Gerlofs was one of at least four children born to Fokel Sybrants Bonga and Gerlof Piers.[3] Pier's mother Fokel was the daughter of the Schieringer noblemen Sybrant Doytsesz. Bonga of Bongastate, Kimswerd.[4]

Pier married Rintsje Syrtsema and they had two children, a son named Gerlof and a daughter named Wobbel, who were born around 1510. Pier died in 1520, and in 1525, Pier's mother appointed in her will Pier's brother, Sybren, as guardian of Pier's children, who still were minors.[3][5] Pier and Pier's brother-in-law Ane Pijbes (husband of Tijdt Gerlofs), were partners in the farming estate of Meyllemastate in Kimswerd.

Pier was the direct descendant of the Frisian chieftain Haring Harinxma (1323–1404), a Schieringer and potestate of Westergo, and the third cousin of Jancko Douwama.[6]

Wijerd Jelckama often is described by 18th and 19th century authors as the nephew of Grutte Pier. Contemporary Worp van Thabor identifies him simply as Wierd van Bolsward. Modern authors such as J.J. Kalma[7] doubt the nephew connection and Brouwer in the Encyclopedia of Friesland states that Wierd was not Grutte Pier's nephew but instead his "lieutenant".[8]

[edit] Rebellion

Approximately 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) to the north-east of Donia's village of Kimswerd, in the city of Franeker[9], the Black Band, a Landsknecht regiment in the service of George, Duke of Saxony was quartered. The regiment was charged with suppressing the civil war between the Vetkopers, who opposed Burgundian and subsequently Habsburg rule, and the Schieringers. The Black Band were notorious as a violent military force; when their pay was insufficient or lacking, they would extract payments from local villagers[citation needed] and on 29 January 1515, the Black Band plundered Donia's village, then allegedly raped and killed his wife, Rintze Syrtsema, and burnt to the ground both the village church and Donia's estate.[10] Seeking revenge, Pier started a guerrilla war campaign against the Habsburgs and allied himself with Charles of Egmond, Duke of Guelders (1492–1538).

[edit] Peasant rebels

Pier's armed band, known as the Arumer Zwarte Hoop (English: Arumer Black Heap, as in "group/mass of"), were pirates mainly active against the Hollanders and Burgundians at sea. He managed to capture many English and Dutch ships, mainly on the Zuider Zee (today's –IJsselmeer–). In the biggest battle of his career, in 1515, he captured 28 Dutch ships, which earned him the nickname "Cross of the Dutchmen".[citation needed] Erasmus criticized Grutte Pier's exploits.[11]

"De dapperheid van Grote Pier" (The bravery of Grote Pier), anno 1516, Oil on canvas by Johannes Hinderikus Egenberger, (Arnhem 1822 – Utrecht 1897)

Pier targeted ships that travelled the Zuider Zee and was very active in 1517, when he used his "signal ships" to attack ships in the region of the West Frisian coast, to which he also transported Geldrian forces, setting them ashore at Medemblik. Pier bore a personal enmity to Medemblik and its inhabitants as, in earlier years, soldiers from Medemblik had cooperated with the Holland army commanded by Duke Charles, the future Emperor.[12] In March 1498, Medemblik was where representatives of the Schieringers met the Saxon ruler duke Albrecht to request Saxon protection from the Vetkopers – a request that resulted in the Saxon occupation of Friesland, Netherlands.[13] On 24 June 1517, Grutte Pier and his Arumer Zwarte Hoop, consisting of some 4,000 soldiers from Frisia and Guelders, sailed to West Frisia, passing Enkhuizen, landing near Wervershoof and advancing to Medemblik. They swiftly captured Medemblik, killing many inhabitants and taking many others prisoner. Some were released on payment of a high ransom. Some of the town's inhabitants fled and found safety at Medemblik Castle. The castle's governor, Joost van Buren, succeeded in keeping the aggressors outside the castle walls. Unable to take the castle, the Arumer Zwarte Hoop plundered the town and set it on fire. With most houses made of wood, the town, including the church, monastery and town hall, were completely razed. After this partial victory, Pier and his army stormed both Nieuwburg and Middleburg Castle near Alkmaar, plundered and set them on fire, leaving only ruins.

In 1517, the Arumer Zwarte Hoop captured the town of Asperen, slaughtering virtually all its inhabitants. They then used the heavily fortified city as a base until driven out by Holland's Stadhouder.[14] In response to the attacks on Medemblik and Alkmaar and the failure of the Captain General of Amstelland, Waterland and Gooiland to defend his territories, the Stadhouder of Holland agreed to fit out a war fleet in July 1517. The fleet came under the supreme command of Anthonius van den Houte, Lord of Vleteren, appropriately titled "Admiral of the Zuider Zee". In the name of Charles V, van den Houte announced he would free the region of Frisian and Gelder piracy. Although van den Houte was initially successful, with some of the Frisian vessels being burnt near Bunschoten, Grutte Pier responded by seizing 11 of Holland's ships in a battle off the coast near Hoorn in 1518.[15]

Shortly after this victory, Pier defeated 300 Hollanders in Hindelopen.[16] According to a legend, Pier forced his captives to repeat a shibboleth to distinguish Frisians from Holland and Lower German infiltrators:

Butter, bread, and green cheese: if you can–t say that, you–re not a real Frisian.[17]

Despite his successes, Pier could not turn the Burgundian/Habsburg tide and he retired, disillusioned, in 1519. Wierd Jelckama took over the command of Pier–s forces.[18] Pier died peacefully in his bed at Grootzand 12[19] in the Frisian city of Sneek on 18 October 1520.[20] Pier is buried in Sneek in the 15th-century Groote Kerk (also called the Martinikerk).[16] His tomb is located at the north side of the church.[18]

[edit] Superhuman strength and size

In 1791, Jacobus Kok wrote that above the porticus of the New City Hall of Leeuwarden, two remarkably large swords were found which were said to have belonged to Grutte Pier and Wijard Jelckama. Donia was noted for the ability to wield this great sword so efficiently that he could behead multiple people with it in a single blow.[21]

Today, a great sword that is said to have belonged to Pier is on display at the Fries museum in Leeuwarden. It measures 2.15 metres (7 ft) in length and weighs about 6.6 kilograms (14.6 lb). Some sources put his height at 7 ft.[22] Pier was alleged to be so strong that he could bend coins using just his thumb, index and middle finger. A huge helmet said to be Grutte Pier's is kept in the town hall of Sneek.[23]

[edit] In popular culture

Statue of Grutte Pier in his hometown of Kimswerd. The line of text on the foot of the statue simply reads in Friese "Grutte Pier".

The legendary status of Grote Pier as a hero or a villain has endured over the centuries with his exploits retold in book, poetry, song and more recently television.

[edit] Gysbert Japicx

The seventeenth century Friese poet Gysbert Japicx (1603–1666) wrote in his composition –Tjesck Moars See Aengste– [Grandmothers–s Sea Anguish][24] the following verse in reverence to Grote Pier (eng. trans., Tall Peter):

Grandmothers–s Sea Anguish

Thee I–ll follow, noble Peter,
Thou wert nobler far and greater,
Than the noblest, home-kept lord,
Battling like an ancient roman,
For his country with her foeman,
Whom he chased with fire and sword.

[edit] Fivefal

Stories about Pier grew into legends that often share themes with stories of other strong men in Germanic heroic literature. For example, one story says Pier ploughed his land by pulling the plough himself instead of using horses. Another story states that Pier could lift a horse above his head. Fivefal is the name in Frisian of a Frisian legend. It tells the story of Pier beating five strong men who came to fight him: the place where he beat them is known as Fivefal, (Lit. Five fall) for all five of them fell to the ground.[25]

[edit] Television

In the 1970s, in the Dutch Floris series, Donia was a major character played by actor Hans Boskamp.

[edit] Sport

The Greate Pier rugby club in Leeuwarden, which plays on a regional level, is named after Donia in Friesland.[26] Many other clubs[citation needed] and several ships are named after him.

[edit] References

  1. ^ Pierius Winsemius. Chronycke ofte Historische Geschiedenis van Vrieslant', published in 1622
  2. ^ Cd. Busken Huet, Het land van Rembrand. Studi«n over de Noordnederlandsche beschaving in de zeventiende eeuw (2 delen in 3 banden). H.D. Tjeenk Willink, Haarlem 1882–1884
  3. ^ a b Archief Familie Van Sminia, inv. nr 2556. Opschrift: Copia. In dorso (= f. 2v): Last Will and Testament of Fokel, widow of Gerloff Piers
  4. ^ J.J. Kalma. Grote Pier Van Kimswerd (1970), p. 51. ISBN 90-70010-13-5.
  5. ^ Approaches to Old Frisian Philology, By Rolf Hendrik Bremmer, Thomas S. B. Johnston, Oebele Vries, Published 1998, ISBN 90-420-0651-X, page 299, Widows in Medieval Frisia
  6. ^ Ancestors of the families Langenberg & Laagland
  7. ^ J.J. Kalma: Grote Pier Van Kimswerd (1970), p. 127–129. ISBN 90-70010-13-5.
  8. ^ Encyclopedia of Friesland, by Jelle Hindriks Brouwer, 1958, p. 333.
  9. ^ Kalma, J.J. (1970). (ed.) de Tille. ed. Grote Pier Van Kimswerd. Netherlands. pp. 54–66. ISBN 90-7001-013-5. 
  10. ^ Kalma, J.J. (1970). (ed.) de Tille. ed. Grote Pier Van Kimswerd. Netherlands. pp. 67. ISBN 90-7001-013-5. 
  11. ^ The Age of Erasmus, Lectures Delivered in the Universities of Oxford and London, by P.S.Allen, Clarendon Press 1914
  12. ^ "Kasteel van Medemblik in de 16e eeuw". Home.planet.nl. http://home.planet.nl/~%20dijkh287/kastelen/medembl/16grotep.htm. Retrieved 2008-10-13. 
  13. ^ Fryslan, staat en macht 1450–1650: Bijdragen aan het historisch congres te Leeuwarden van 3 tot 5 juni 1998. By Johan Frieswijk et al. Published 1999
  14. ^ Beekman, Martinus. Beschreiving van de Stad en Baronnie Asperen. Vertoonende haare oudheid, gebouwen, hooge, en verdere regeering, ens. Utrecht, Mattheus Visch, 1745.
  15. ^ Sicking, Louis (2004), History of Warfare, Volume 23: Neptune and the Netherlands State, Economy, and War at Sea in the Renaissance, ISBN 90-04-13850-1, Page 294
  16. ^ a b Geldersche Volks-Almanak Published 1853
  17. ^ Kellman, Steven G. (2003), Switching Languages: Translingual Writers Reflect on Their Craft, University of Nebraska Press, ISBN 0-8032-2747-7, Page 10
  18. ^ a b Kok, Jacobus (1791). "Pier Gerlofs Donia". Vaderlandsch Woordenboek. 24 (P–R). Amsterdam: Johannes Allart. pp. 17–21. 
  19. ^ Fries Scheepvaart Museum, Object number 1992-257
  20. ^ Kalma, J.J. (1970). (ed.) de Tille. ed. Grote Pier Van Kimswerd. Netherlands. pp. 50. ISBN 90-7001-013-5. 
  21. ^ Kok, Jacobus (1791). "Pier Gerlofs Donia". Vaderlandsch Woordenboek. 24 (P–R). Amsterdam: Johannes Allart. pp. 21. 
  22. ^ "Grote Pier (Grutte Pier)" (in Dutch). bertsgeschiedenissite.nl. http://www.bertsgeschiedenissite.nl/middeleeuwen/eeuw15/grotepier.htm. Retrieved 2009-06-07. 
  23. ^ "SneekPromotion.nl - Bezienswaardigheden". Sneekpromotion.nl. http://www.sneekpromotion.nl/nl/Sneek/Bezienswaardigheden.html. Retrieved 2008-10-13.  (Dutch)
  24. ^ Foreign Quarterly Review, Language and Literature of Friesland, page 617 Tjesck Moars See Aengste Pub 1829 Harvard University v.3 (1828–29)
  25. ^ "Grutte Pier". Frysln Marketing. http://www.beleeffriesland.nl/en_meer---/typisch_fries/friese_volksverhalen/grutte_pier.htm?steID=6&itmID=15969. Retrieved 2008-10-19.  (Dutch)
  26. ^ RC Greate Pier Leeuwarden history (Dutch)

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