Sunday, 23 October 2011

jolly roger or goonies r good enough

For another spooky Halloween tale (and perhaps less theologically challenged than the last, or perhaps not) is the curious story of Hanseatic privateer turned pirate, Klaus Störtebeker, is circulating the internet (first appearing to me via the fantastic and phantasmagorical Atlas Obscura), and having never heard of this episode before, I did some research and discovered that it is not just a scary, friend-of-a-friend urban legend ghost story, the beheaded pirate most remembered for the not unremarkable feet of lurching some twelve paces through the gallows after he had been decapitated, but a fascinating history and a tale of a man elevated to folk-hero.
Störtebeker, almost certainly not his real name but probably a pirate nom de guerre since it means something like to drink down the cup in one gulp, originally helped keep supplies flowing safely between ports of the Hanseatic League during conflicts with Sweden and Denmark, but once his services were no longer needed, and attributably out of a sense of justice to distribute the wealth among his band of conspirators and the common land-lubbers who suffered under the monopoly of the guilds, he turned pirate himself. After some years of conquests, Störtebeker and his crew were eventually captured and condemned to death around the year 1400, after failing to commute their sentences with fantastic offers of plunder, by the senate in Hamburg. Störtebeker’s ghoulish theatrics in the gallows, walking without his head, was more than just sheer resistance (I had never heard of this story and it reminded me of that often repeated episode of a maiden, after being accused of witchcraft and about to be burned at the stake, eating as much gun-power as she could stomach to take the whole audience and inquisition with her) but he plead for a deal with the jury: first to be executed, Störtebeker pledged that he would walk away afterwards and that all the members of his crew that he passed ought to be spared. He passed a line-up of eleven or twelve of the men and might have gone on to save them all, if he had not been tripped, as some say. When this amazing feat came to pass, the judges decided not to uphold their end of the bargain and had all seventy or so of his men executed anyway. I imagine that that cursed Hamburg for all time, eventually leading to the League’s dissolution. Incidentally, the judge asked the executioner afterwards if he wasn’t tired from all that work. The executioner boasted that he was not worn out at all and could still take on the entire senate, if need be, and for that, the executioner was put to death too.