Died At Age: 40
Also Known As: Grutte Pier
Born Country: Netherlands
Born in: Kimswerd, Frisia, Netherlands
Notorious As: Pirate
Height: 2.15 m
Spouse/Ex-: Rintsje Syrtsema
father: Gerlof Piers Donia
mother: Fokel Sybrants Bonga
children: Gerlof Piers Donia, Wobbel Piers Donia
Died on: October 28, 1520
place of death: Sneek, Frisia, Netherlands
Who was Pier Gerlofs Donia?
Pier Gerlofs Donia was a Frisian warrior, rebel leader, and pirate. He was a man who was famous for his strength and size and was often referred to as the “Grutte Pier,” or the “Big Pier.” His life was later depicted in various legends and stories. He fought against the Hollanders and the Burgundians and defeated them in several battles on land as well as at sea. Such feats earned him his legendary status. He formed a rebel army known as the 'Arumer Zwarte Hoop,' consisting primarily of peasants like him, who fought alongside him. It is believed that he welded a “Biedenhänder,” a sword that was big enough to lift with both hands. This prominent sword is displayed at the ‘Fries Museum’ in Leeuwarden. This sword is tall, as the legend himself was, and weighs 6.6 kilograms. Some believe that Pier wanted to remove the Saxons from Friesland and reinstate Friesian independence, but this spirit of nationalism may have been added to fables long after his death.
Childhood & Early Life
Pier Gerlofs Donia was born around the year 1480, in Kimswerd, near the city of Harlingen, Wonseradeel, situated in modern Friesland in the Netherlands.
He was one of at least four children of Fokel Sybrants Bonga and Gerlofs Piers. His mother was the daughter of Sybrant Doytsesz, a Schieringer nobleman.
In 1510, Pier married Rintsje Syrtsema and fathered two children, a son named Gerlof and a daughter named Wobbel.
He was a farmer. He and his brother-in-law, Ane Pijbes, partnered in a farming property of Meyllemastate in Kimswerd.
After his early demise in 1520, Pier's mother made his brother, Sybren, the guardian of his still-minor children.
There is some disagreement about the relationship between Pier and Wijerd Jelckama. While authors from the 18th and 19th centuries believed that he was Pier's nephew, others think he was Pier's lieutenant.
He remains legendary for his strength, and it is said that with his enormous 7-foot frame, he could bend a coin using just his thumb and forefinger and also pick up a plough using only one hand.
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The Schieringers and the Vetkopers had been in a constant clash since 1350, and even though the Schieringers won the battle, the Vetkopers refused to accept defeat.
Both the factions received foreign aid. The Schieringers were helped by the Duke of Saxony, while the Duke of Gelre assisted the Vetkopers.
The 'Black Band' was a Landsknecht unit stationed in Franeker, situated roughly 7 kilometers to the northeast of Pier's village of Kimswerd. They served George, Duke of Saxony.
The 'Black Band' was in charge of subduing the civil war between the Vetkopers and the Schieringers.
They were believed to be a rough military force, who would extract and loot the villagers if their pay was less or insufficient.
The 'Black Band' ransacked Pier's village on January 29, 1515, and supposedly raped and killed his wife, Rintze Syrtsema. They also burned his estate and the village church.
He wanted revenge and teamed up with Charles of Egmond, the Duke of Guelders against the Habsburgs. He formed a guerrilla war troop to fight them.
Pier formed an army called the 'Arumer Zwarte Hoop, ' which translates to the “Black Hope,” or the “heap of Arum.” It consisted of peasants like him, who did not have any former military training.
His band was mainly against the Hollanders and the Burgundians, and they seized many Dutch and English ships on Zuider Zee, a shallow bay of the North Sea.
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His point of attack was the Zuider Zee, and he used his "signal ships" to capture the enemies on the West Frisian coast. He also transferred Geldrian soldiers to the shore of Medemblik.
He had a personal grudge against Medemblik and its people because the soldiers from Medemblik supported the Dutch army commanded by Duke Charles.
In March 1498, the Schieringers met Saxon ruler Duke Albrecht to appeal for protection against the Vetkopers in Medemblik. This secret meeting resulted in the occupation of Friesland by the Saxons.
On June 24, 1517, Pier and his army, the 'Arumer Zwarte Hoop,' which was made up of almost 4,000 soldiers, set sail and landed near Wervershoof. Following this, they approached Medemblik.
They quickly seized Medemblik and killed its inhabitants. They took several prisoners. They received high ransoms to release some prisoners, while some fled to ‘Kasteel Radboud.’
The governer of ‘Kasteel Radboud,’ Joost van Buren, was successful in keeping the army outside its walls. However, he could not stop the 'Arumer Zwarte Hoop' from ravaging the town and setting it ablaze.
This incomplete victory led to Pier and his army storming the ‘Middleburg Castle’ and Nieuwburg, plundering and burning it to ruins.
Battles on Land
In 1517, the town of Asperen was captured by the 'Arumer Zwarte Hoop.' They killed almost all its residents. Eventually, they were driven out of the city by Holland's Stadhouder.
In July 1517, the Stadhouder of Holland outfitted an armada in response to the attacks in Medemblik and Alkmaar.
The fleet was commanded by Anthonius van den Houte, Lord of Vleteren, aptly called the “Admiral of the Zuiderzee.” Van den Houte swore that he would free the region of Frisian and Gelder piracy.
Van den Houte was successful in taking down some of the Frisian ships, but his success was short-lived, as Pier seized 11 of Holland's ships in a battle off the coast near Hoorn in 1518.
In Hindelopen, he also triumphed over 300 Hollanders. According to legends, to distinguish between Frisians and German infiltrators, he often asked his prisoners to recite shibboleths.
Personal Life & Family
Although Pier was successful in his endeavors, he retired in 1519.
Wierd Jelckama succeeded him and commanded his forces. On October 18, 1520, he died peacefully in his bed in Grootzand 12, a city in Sneek.
He remains buried in Sneek, in a 15th-century “Groote Kerk” (meaning “large church”). His burial place is housed on the north side of the church.
Pier's son, Gerloff, remained unmarried and fathered no children. However, his daughter, Wobbel, married thrice. This left no descendants in the male line but many through his daughter.