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Thread: The Sword of Grutte Pier

  1. #1
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    The Sword of Grutte Pier

    Collection Fries Museum
    Inv. Nr. H 185-C
    Attributed to Pier Gerlofs Donia (1480?-1520)

    Introduction:
    Grutte Pier (born 1480? - died October 28th 1520) was a famous Frisian freedom fighter and pirate, who was known for his enormous size and strength.

    Grutte Pier, (or Greate Pier or, in Dutch, Grote Pier), was the nickname for Pier Gerlofs Donia. In English, his nickname translates to Big Pier. Later, he would also style himself "king of Friesland, duke of Sneek, count of Sloten, baron of Hindelopen and captain-general of the Zuiderzee".

    There are many legends about him, and the truth is sometimes hard to tell from the fiction. I'll tell the story as it commonly told, but I'll try to stick to the facts.

    The goal of this article is not to present an exhaustive analysis of Late Medieval politics in Friesland, of Grutte Pier as a historical person or of the sword attributed to him. Instead, I intend to give a very basic overview of a history which is little known outside Friesland, and to present the photo's of the sword.

    Historical background:
    Since Charlemagne, Friesland (also known as Frisia) has enjoyed a position of freedom directly under the Holy Roman Emperor (who usually had fairly little real power), although the counts of Holland did have a claim on Friesland. Throughout the middle ages, the counts of Holland staged numerous invasions to subdue Friesland, but although they did conquer and annex West-Friesland, they never subdued Friesland itself. This resulted in the remarkable situation that in the middle ages, Friesland was effectively a farmer's republic, governed in ways that go back to ancient Germanic times. However, this did result in frequent civil wars between various factions. The most important of these wars was the war between two parties, called the Schieringers and the Vetkopers.

    In 1498, on appeal of the Schieringer party, the Emperor made duke Albrecht of Saxony* governor of Friesland. A few years later, the counts of Holland also tried to force their claims on Friesland, and occupied the city of Staveren. These actions enraged the Vetkoper party, as well as many non-aligned freedom-loving Frisians, who allied themselves with duke Karel of Gelre.

    (*important note: with "Saxony" and "Saxon" I mean the duchy / electorate in middle / eastern Germany, not the region of Lower Saxony or the Saxon peoples living in Lower Saxony)

    Grutte Pier:
    In these years, Grutte Pier was a farmer in the village of Kimswerd, near Harlingen, in Friesland. But in January of 1515, a band of Saxon mercenaries burned Kimswerd to the ground, killing Grutte Pier's family. The enraged Grutte Pier became a strong opponent to the Saxon and Hollandish occupation of Frisia and turned to piracy against them.

    In the years 1515-1517, Grutte Pier practiced piracy on the Zuiderzee (now IJsselmeer), and managed to capture a number of enemy cities and fortresses. All this time, he sent the loot to Karel of Gelre to aid the war effort.

    However, in 1517, he realised that Karel of Gelre was only interested strengthening his own position in Friesland, rather then helping the Frisians regain their independence. Disillusioned, he retired to Sneek, where he died in his bed in 1520.

    Perhaps the best known characteristic of Grutte Pier, rather then his remarkabe skill as a captain on the land as well as on the sea, was his enormous size and strength. It is claimed that he has been able to decapitate multiple enemies with one stroke of his sword. On another occassion, it is said that he knocked down five men with the shaft of his plow.

    The sword of Grutte Pier:
    In the collection of the Fries Museum, there is a Bidenhänder sword (Inv. Nr. H 185-C). Since about 1600 it has been in the possession of the city of Leeuwarden, and is traditionally attibuted to Grutte Pier.

    The dimensions are as follows:
    Overall length: 2.13m
    Weight: 6.6kg
    Make: Passau, 15th C.

    The grip is made of oak wood, and covered with a single piece of tanned goat leg, meaning there is no seam.

    The blade has the inscription "INRI" (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews).

    According to the museum, it is probable that the sword has been brought to Friesland by a German Landsknecht and captured by Grutte Pier.

    Main references:
    Fries Museum: description of the sword
    http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grote_Pier
    http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albrecht_van_Saksen
    http://nieuwburg.alkmaarweb.nl/homep...paginaid=49840

    I took the following pictures of the sword in the Fries Museum, without explicit permission from the Museum. Therefore, I reserve all rights to the images. If you want to download them or in any other way use them, contact me through PM.

    And please excuse the quality. The hall was dark, the sword was high up on the wall, and I had no tripod...



    Last edited by Paul Hansen; 10-22-2006 at 12:31 PM.
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  2. Re: The Sword of Grutte Pier

    Originally posted by Paul Hansen

    The grip is made of oak wood, and covered with a single piece of tanned goat leg, meaning there is no seam.

    [/img]

    wow

  3. #3
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    Nice story
    What does the writing on the blade say...?
    S.Haugtredet
    Norway

  4. #4
    6.6 kg

    That's mighty big even for an ostfrisian.

  5. #5
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    Sweet glorius STEEL OF STEELS!!!!!!!!!!! Is that YOURS(LIKE, DO YOU OWN IT!?)!?
    I dunno. Iron is sort-of the Paris Hilton of metals, and carbon, nickel, chromium silicon, etc. are a bunch of good looking guys she just met at a party. - Al Massey

  6. #6
    Paul,

    Thank you so much for sharing this.

    One question...I can't tell by the photos...does the sword have an edge? If not, does it appear as though it once did? The shape of it seems odd to me, especially considering it's size.

  7. #7
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    Originally posted by S.Haugtredet
    Nice story
    What does the writing on the blade say...?
    I took the pictures of the engraving with arm streched above my head, so what you see here is all I have.

    The museum says it has the letters "INRI" and the Passau "running wolf" mark.

    Originally posted by Sam Salvati
    Sweet glorius STEEL OF STEELS!!!!!!!!!!! Is that YOURS(LIKE, DO YOU OWN IT!?)!?
    No. It is in the Fries Museum in Leeuwarden, and probably owned either by the museum, by the city of Leeuwarden or by the province of Friesland.

    I may commission a reproduction of it one day though.

    Originally posted by Michael Edelson
    Paul,

    Thank you so much for sharing this.

    One question...I can't tell by the photos...does the sword have an edge? If not, does it appear as though it once did? The shape of it seems odd to me, especially considering it's size.
    It certainly does not have a secondary bevel.

    It seems to have a convex edge, but I obviously didn't touch the blade to check for sharpness. But at that weight, I have little doubt it could split a man in two even without a sharp edge...

    The edge was in any case not purposedly rounded, like you'd see on a reenactment sword.

    This sword could originally have been a bearing sword.

    However, it has apparently been attributed to Grutte Pier within a 100 years of his death, which, in my opinion, makes it likely that it was his, and possibly also was his battle sword.
    Last edited by Paul Hansen; 10-23-2006 at 03:05 AM.
    Hwęšere žęr fuse feorran cwoman
    to žam ęšelinge. - Dream of the Rood


    "Ah, Blackadder. Started talking to yourself, I see."
    "Yes...it's the only way I can be assured of intelligent conversation."
    - Lord Melchett and Lord Edmund Blackadder

  8. #8
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    Grutte Pier rules!

    "Būter, Brea en Griene Tsiis. Wa't dat net sizze kin is gjin oprjochte Fries!"

    ^ Everybody who could not flawlessly pronounce the Frisian sentence above would have his head chopped of by Grutte Pier with that sword.
    Last edited by Frank S.; 10-23-2006 at 03:18 AM.

  9. #9
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    Wow, that sure would be one hell of a cutter - and I wouldn't want to be standing at the wrong end of it.

    Thanks for those pictures, they look good regardless of a lack of tripod.

    -John

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    Re: The Sword of Grutte Pier

    Originally posted by Paul Hansen
    It is claimed that he has been able to decapitate multiple enemies with one stroke of his sword. On another occassion, it is said that he knocked down five men with the shaft of his plow.
    Pffftt... Samurai Jack does that stuff all the time...

  11. #11
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    Nice thread Paul, i remember the name Grote Pier from the black and white TV series Floris with Rutger Hauer in the lead role, but that was a long time ago.

  12. #12
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    Great story, he's like the William Wallace. The pommel looks Venitian and the blade looks to be a very large XIIIa style. Man that's cool and very crusader with the Holy inscription.
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  13. #13
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    Originally posted by Eric Lamers
    Nice thread Paul, i remember the name Grote Pier from the black and white TV series Floris with Rutger Hauer in the lead role, but that was a long time ago.
    He was the bad guy in the series, wasn't he? Bloody Hollanders!

    The series were not very historical anyway...

    Originally posted by John Lundemo
    Great story, he's like the William Wallace.
    Yes, I think there is a certain likeness, now that you mention it.
    Hwęšere žęr fuse feorran cwoman
    to žam ęšelinge. - Dream of the Rood


    "Ah, Blackadder. Started talking to yourself, I see."
    "Yes...it's the only way I can be assured of intelligent conversation."
    - Lord Melchett and Lord Edmund Blackadder

  14. #14
    Thanks a lot for sharing.
    That is indeed quite awesome.
    -Will

  15. #15
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    Thanks for both the pictures and the background information, Paul. The photos are great!
    Some stories can't be told by words.
    Some legends are meant to die.
    Some bloodlines must come to an end.

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  16. #16
    Sad thing that he's never mention in the history classes at school (at least not mine). I'd never heard about him until you mentioned him some time ago. So thanks for bringing that piece of history to my attention!

  17. #17
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    Originally posted by Jeroen Zuiderwijk
    Sad thing that he's never mention in the history classes at school (at least not mine). I'd never heard about him until you mentioned him some time ago. So thanks for bringing that piece of history to my attention!
    I think the fact that he did most of his pillaging in Holland and West-Friesland is the cause of that.
    Hwęšere žęr fuse feorran cwoman
    to žam ęšelinge. - Dream of the Rood


    "Ah, Blackadder. Started talking to yourself, I see."
    "Yes...it's the only way I can be assured of intelligent conversation."
    - Lord Melchett and Lord Edmund Blackadder

  18. #18
    Originally posted by Paul Hansen
    I think the fact that he did most of his pillaging in Holland and West-Friesland is the cause of that.
    Well, even bad guys deserve a place in history But I guess he must have been too succesful to be mentioned

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