A posh Hanseatic knife for Henrik ter Brugghen

Friday, September 09, 2016

I have a new knife!


Phase I: Documentation

Ever since I received my copy of the book 'Der Pritzwalker Silberfund; Schmuck des späten Mittelalters' in 2010, it has been on my bucket-list to have a knife made with a silver handle-mount like the one displayed on page 31.
This mount was part of a hoard that was discovered by father and daughter Amunde in 1858 at the parish of Burs on the Baltic island of Gotland. It had been buried there in 1361 for safekeeping when the Danes invaded the island. The Gotlanders were slaughtered at the battles of Mästerby and Wisby and we can assume that the owner of the hoard was one of them, since the treasure was never reclaimed. It is now kept in the Historiska Museet (Swedish History Museum) in Stockholm.

from Krabath, S. (2006), Der Pritzwalker Silberfund; Schmuck des späten Mittelalters

Masterpieces mentioned in north German goldsmith guild statutes

It is this type of knife-mount that was one of the masterpieces that a goldsmith-journeyman had to make before he could become a master of his trade. We find this mentioned in the goldsmith guild statutes of several important Hanseatic towns of the fourteenth century and even as far west as Groningen in the early sixteenth century. The underlined parts of the text are about the knife-mount in particular and I have translated these bits for you.

Stade, early fourteenth century
Quicunque aurifaber volens fieri suus ipsius dominus debet facere annulum aureum, fibulam anglicam, fibulam subarracionis gheblakmalet et anulum cultello circumdatum dictum byworp eciam gheblakmalet.
'a ring around the knife, called a byworp, also inlaid with niello' -

Riga, 1360
Vortmer we sulhere wille werden, de sal maken en gulden vingerin mit vinsteren und ene Engelsche brazen, und ene hanttruwe brazen geblackmalet, und einen biworp mit smelte; desse clenode sal he wisen den mesteren und den olderluden des ammetes.
- 'a biworp with enamel' -

Hamburg, 1375
Darna scholen de wergkmeister darto zeen, dat he sin ampt wol kone, unde schal maken eyn guldene vingern mit wormeshoveden unde eyn par bende mit smelte to eneme meste, by des wergkmeisters brede.
- 'a pair of bands with enamel for a knife' -

Wismar, 1380
Vortmer, welk goltsmit sines sulves wil werden, de schal tovorn maken en guldene vynghern, ene enghelsche breetzen vnde ene hanttruwe gheblackmalede breetzen unde enen byworp ghelecht umme een mees, ok gheblakmalet.
- 'a byworp laid around a knife, also inlaid with niello' -

Riga, 1393
Und he sal maken dre stucke werkes, dat en en gulden vingerlin, dat ander 1 paar biworpe mit text-buckstaven, dat derde en hantrouwe bratze, und de dre stucke werkes sal he vor dat werk bringen.
- 'one pair of biworpe with letters' -

Lüneburg, around 1400
Item schal he maken dre stucke werkes in des werkmesters bode: dat erste is eyn gulden vingeren myt vinsteren und myt wormeshoveden; dat ander is eyn par byworpe myt swibogen und myt dereken darynne und amlegeret; dat drudde is eyn handtruwebratze gegraven myt bökstaven und amlegeret.
- 'a pair of byworpe with arches and with doors (?) therein and enameled' -

Wismar, 1403
Item Wen hir danne en knecht en Goldtschmidt werdt de schal also syn werck maken Int Erste enen golden rinck mit ener hogen kasten und mit twene drakenkopken und eme Bresse mit enem engell, und ene bresse mit der vortruwing gheblackmalt, und enen byworp baven up dat Mess, ock gheblakmalt
- 'a byworp on top of the knife, also inlaid with niello' -

Groningen, 1512
de twe stucke werckes soelen zijn twe bewarpe myt beesten ghesneden onder glas gheanuliert ende elck beworp sal hebben een sunderlinge manieer. Dat derde werck sal syn een gulden gestrengede rynck gedreit vergadert
- 'two bewarpe cut with beasts and enameled with glass and each beworp shall be in a different manner' -

Other sources and thoughts

In the Historical Museum of Szczecin in Poland (the former Hanseatic town of Stettin) another three extant pieces of these 'byworpe' are kept. They were part of a local hoard that was buried in the early fifteenth century. Hugh McDonald made the following photo when he was there in 2013, for which he has my gratitude. Two of these have the same opening from which the knife blade can protrude as the Gotland specimen has.

photo by Hugh McDonald (2013) of three silver knife mounts in the Historical Museum of Szczecin

Alas, I know of no extant examples of silver knife mounts from the Low Countries. There is evidence though that knife handles were indeed furnished with silver over here in the fourteenth century too. In the 1358-1359 household account of Dutch nobleman Jan van Blois there are three entries for knives mounted with silver, for example: Item den selven een mes mit sulver beslaghen, 40 sc.
Because the medieval goldsmith guild statutes of Deventer are no longer around, it is unclear if these mounts were called 'byworpe' there as well. The fact that Deventer was situated on the border of the Low German language region and the fact that they were called 'beworp' in Groningen in 1512, gives food for thought though.

Phase II: Reconstruction

The design

In Deventer Burgerscap I portray a merchant called Henrik ter Brugghen. In the war of the Hanseatic League with Denmark in 1367-1370 he was one of Deventers soldiers on campaign in Denmark and Skane, so he might have picked up the knife there. And as Deventer merchants also traded intensively with the Baltic area through the Hansa network, it seems logical that Henrik might also have bought a knife with silver mounts on one of his business trips there. As you can see the provenance of the knife makes for a great conversation piece at living history events today.

With this in mind I decided to have a knife reproduced, using the Gotland extant mount. I asked a friend who works at the Historiska Museet if he could come by detailed photos of it. In response, the museum had the piece photographed and put them online in their collection database, for which I am very grateful. The text says + HELP MARIA -+ HELP x IHESVS. The 'collar' through which the blade should go seems to have been gilt.

photos by Historiska Museet (2015) of the knife mount from Burs, Gotland

In the north German goldsmith statutes sometimes a pair of mounts are mentioned. Therefor, I opted for a pair of mounts on the reproduction as well. I thought it easiest to have the top mount to be a copy of the extant one too, but with a cap on the end instead of the 'blade-collar'. Because of the mention of wormeshoveden / drakenkopken (wyrmheads / dragonheads) on rings in the statutes, and because of the mural paintings in Archeon being from house Drakenburg in Utrecht (one of my research projects), I chose a wyrm / dragon as cap decoration. I found a good example of such a beast in the fourteenth century finds from Wiener Neustadt in Austria.

from Hofer, N. (2014), Der Schatzfundt von Wiener Neustadt

Because the Gotland mount has a teardrop cross section and because of the style of its letters, it seems to have belonged to a knife that stylistically belonged to the period of 1200-1300/1350. So when making the design for the to be reproduced knife, I tried to have it look like some extant knives from this timeframe and from the north of Germany, such as these 13th century finds from the region of Mecklenburg.

from Hirschberg, R. M. (2005), Messerformen im Hochmittelalter unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Mark Brandenburg

The final design:

drawing by Bertus Brokamp (2016)

The replica

In October 2015 I contacted Anton & Ludmila of Gothic Cast and asked if they could make this knife for me and gave them the above design info. I requested a blade with iron core and steel cutting edge, for the handle to be made in walnut burl wood and to have gilding on the mounts' collar, arches and end cap.
A few weeks ago, at the Battle of Wisby reenactment at Wisby, they gave it to me in person. It was pretty special to get this knife there; a knife with a silver mount that was based on the one that had been buried nearby in Burs, because of that same war in 1361. And although the knife differs from my design (it is straight all along, instead of having the sleek curves from tip to end), I still think it looks majestic! Or should I say Mercantile? ;-)

Now I just need a good scabbard to go with it....

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