The zweihänder sword that belonged to Grutte Pier (1480-1520), Friesian pirate and warlord.

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In the early sixteenth century, Friesland was under the authority of George, Duke of Saxony. However, Charles, Duke of Egmond or Guelders, was also keen on possessing the Frisian region, resulting in a battle between their supporters. After George, Duke of Saxony, had given the territory to Charles of Egmond, yet another war broke out, this time between the Frisians and Holland. This war formed the backdrop for the rise of Pier Gerlofs Donia (circa 1480–1520), better known asGrutte Pier (Great Pier’). Grutte Pier and his sword have become an inseparable duo, symbols of the Frisian struggle for independence.

Pier Gerlofs is believed to have been born around 1480 in Kimswerd, near the city of Harlingen, Wonseradeel (located in modern Friesland, the Netherlands). His father was a man by the name of Gerlofs Pier, whilst his mother was Fokel Sybrants Bonga, who was the daughter of a Schieringer nobleman. Pier had at least three other siblings.

According to legend, Pier was around 7 feet (around 2.13 m) tall, and was so strong that he could bend a coin using just his thumb and forefinger. Another legend attesting to his great strength is that he was able to pick up a plough with just one hand.

Pier, a farmer from Kimswerd, had managed to elude the war until Saxon soldiers burnt down his farm in 1515. Pier and his companions in adversity decided to take up arms against first, the Saxon oppressors and later, against Holland, forming an armed band called ‘Arumer Zwarte Hoop’ (‘Black Gang from Arum’). Pier became leader of the ‘seinschipsluyden’ and fought as a pirate in battles on the Zuiderzee, capturing many English and Dutch ships. Frisians regard him as a freedom fighter, but to the Dutch he is an outlaw.

As Pier was aware that his army was no match against the Saxon mercenaries on land, he decided to take to the waters, and became a pirate. Pier was a successful pirate, and captured many ships belonging to his enemies that sailed on the Zuiderzee (Zuyder Sea). Pier held a personal grudge against the town of Medemblik, where the Schieringers first met the Duke of Saxony in secret to request his aid. It is recorded that Pier raided this coastal town in 1517, and then again in 1518/9 to avenge the capture and public execution of his lieutenant, Grutte Wyerd. In battle, Pier supposedly brandished a Biedenhänder, a sword that was wielded with two hands. ‘Grutte Pier’s Sword’ is today kept in the Fries Museum in Leeuwarden. This weapon is as tall as the legendary warrior himself, and weighs 6.6 kg (14.6 lbs).

In just two years of this hardcore scurvy pirate action, Pier sunk 132 enemy ship – including one battle where he destroyed 28 Dutch ships in a single day, a deed that earned him the badass nickname "The Cross of the Dutchmen".

When he wasn't making up insane tongue-twisters about fries and buter, Pier also attacked and plunder land targets as well as naval ones. In 1516, he attacked Medemblik, a stronghold of Saxon sympathizers. The city was sacked, razed to the ground, and its inhabitants massacred. Two enemy castles fell to him soon after. In 1517 the town of Asperen was also annihilated in a similar manner – the Dutch responded by sending a punitive fleet to bombard him with cannons. Pier's pirate armada captured 11 of their ships and drove the rest from the harbor.


Pier's countless battle wounds and injuries finally caught up with him, and in 1519 he retired as a rebel leader, went back to his new home, and died peacefully in his bed in 1520. His buddy Wijerd carried on the fight against the Saxons for a while, but that guy was no Giant of Kimswerd. He suffered a number of defeats and was decapitated in 1523. Charles V wasn't able to fully assume control over Friesland until 1524.

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