The wreck of Danish king John’s (or Hans’) flagship, GRIBSHUNDEN, which sank in 1495, was the focus of an underwater archaeological survey carried out on the wreck site earlier this week. The Society for Combat Archaeology has had the privilege of being involved with the wreck since 2014, assisting MARIS/Södertörn University with underwater investigations and excavations, not least the salvaging of the figurehead in 2015 (Warming 2015). While the divers have been plunging into the Baltic, however, a great deal of research has simultaneously been directed at diving into the historical archives. One of the astonishing results recently discovered by Rolf Warming (Society for Combat Archaeology) is a new primary historical source describing the disastrous loss of GRIBSHUNDEN in 1495 (transcription and translation below). Only five contemporary or near-contemporary sources have been known until now and the newly found (sixth) source is the most detailed of those known thus far (for the five other sources, see Sjöblom 2015).
The source in question is the Refutatio calumniarum cujusdam Joannis Magni Gothi … Huic accessit chronicon sive historia Joannis regis Daniæ in declarationem ejusdem refutationis written by Danish historian Hans Svaning (1503-1584) under the pseudonym Petrus Parvus Rosæfontanus. The volume – simply known as Hans Svaning’s Refutatio – was printed in 1561 (although already completed in 1560) and contains an account of the history of King John (Chronicon Ioannis). The account was originally intended as part of a larger history of Denmark, the Historica Danica, which Svaning completed in 1579 but never published in full (Zeeberg 2003). A royal letter indicates that Svaning’s research data for this work, probably including Chronicon Ioannis, was collected from monasteries, churches, and elsewhere in the 1550s. It is also worth noting that Svaning became employed as a teacher in 1541 for the seven-year-old Prince Frederik (II) and taught him for 11 years, thus being in close contact with the royal family for some time and assumedly having ample access to various sources, including eyewitnesses. The Historica Danica is currently being translated into Danish by Peter Zeeberg (senior researcher, Det Danske Sprog- og Litteraturselskab), who has been a great help in attaining an accurate Danish translation of the original work.
Hans Svaning’s Chronicon Ioannis provides us with new and important details regarding the king’s fleet as well as the disastrous event that led to the loss of the GRIBSHUNDEN and the salvaging operations that followed. According to Svaning, King John was bound for the political meeting at Calmar with 18 ships, entertaining high hopes of reinstating the Kalmarunion and being crowned king of Sweden. On this journey, he anchored at Egesund, close to Ronneby, where he was joined by a fleet of other ships belonging to Danish and Norwegian noblemen whom he had summoned to a meeting prior to the one to be held in Calmar. It was during this pre-meeting, which was probably held on the nearby island (Stora Ekön), that the gunpowder aboard GRIBSHUNDEN suddenly caught fire, leading to a fierce fire aboard the vessel and her ultimate destruction. The account tells us of the crew’s attempts to rescue the ship and the panic that ensued aboard. Many perished in the smoke and flames while others traded one danger for another by carelessly throwing themselves into the water where they drowned. Interestingly, the vernacular (Danish) name for the ship, “GRIFFSHUNT”, is used in the Latin text, indicating that Svaning has possibly relied on oral transmission of knowledge regarding this event.
Svaning may have interviewed eyewitnesses before his research for the Historica Danica, undertaken some 60 years after GRIBSHUNDEN’s demise, and relied on his memory, but some parts are almost certainly based on secondary sources. Both factors would explain the confusion between GRIBSHUNDEN and the loss of another (unnamed) ship, which, according to Svaning, contained the royal furnishings, letters, and other documents to be used at the meeting in Calmar. From other contemporary historical sources, it is known with reasonable certainty that the precious cargo was lost with GRIBSHUNDEN and that she was the King’s flagship.
Finally, Svaning also reports that most of the wrecked goods and royal furnishings were later salvaged at Egesund where GRIBSHUNDEN sank. Based on context, the salvage operations seem to have taken place after the failed meeting at Calmar, in which Sten Sture, Swedish statesman and the regent of Sweden, omitted to participate. This detail is in accordance with previous archaeological observations, concluding that the wreck has been subject to extensive salvage operations where, among other things, most of the guns had been salvaged (Warming 2020; forthcoming report on the GRIBSHUNDEN underwater excavations, “Gribshunden, marinarkeologisk undersökning 2019”; Warming 2020).
The previously known historical sources have also been reexamined in connection with this discovery and the extensive research connected to the report of the 2019 excavations (edited by Johan Rönnby, MARIS/Södertörn University). In a previous report regarding the archaeological investigations of 2013-2015 (Rönnby 2015), Ingvar Sjöblom included a study of the five previously known sources, concluding that the account given in Arild Huitfeldt’s Kong Hansis Krønicke (1599) showed a heavy reliance on other sources and that another, unknown source had been used for this work (Sjöblom 2015: 42-43). Svaning’s Chronicon Ioannis or Historica Danica was undoubtedly the main source for the account given by Huitfeldt, copying in some places Svaning’s descriptions word by word but omitting many of the important details discussed above.
Having reviewed the mentioning of the ship in the different historical sources together with Svaning’s description, we also arrive at a reasonable explanation for the peculiar name “GRIBSHUNDEN” (English: “Griffin-Hound”). As has previously been known, it would be more correct to simply call her “GRIFFIN” as it is only in some of the historical sources describing her loss in 1495 that she is called “GRIBSHUNDEN” (or actually, GRIBHUND/GRIFFSHUNT/GRYBSHUNTEN/GRIPHUNDH). Sources from previous years – written in both Latin and Low German – refer to her solely as “GRIFFIN”. So where does the alias “Griffin-Hound” come from? A common misconception is that the name is related to the monstrous dog-like figurehead of the ship, which we assisted in salvaging in 2015. However, this has recently been cogently refuted by Dr. Niklas Eriksson (Eriksson 2020). A more reasonable interpretation, put forth by Rolf Warming (SoCA) on the basis of the historical sources, is that the alias “Griffin-Hound” is best understood as a phonetic mix-up deriving from the Low German “GRIFUN” (English: “Griffin”). In the vernacular, the ship was most likely referred to as GRIFUN or GRIBHUND, depending on what language was being spoken.
Additional observations have surfaced with aid from philologist Antti Ijäs (Society for Combat Archaeology) in conjunction with this historical research. One of the most interesting details gained from Antti Ijäs’ translation of Reimar Kock’s Lübeckian chronicle (Ex chronico Lubecensi Reimari Kock) is a reference to King John having German mercenaries (“Dudischen knechten”) aboard his fleet and, presumably, aboard GRIBSHUNDEN as well. The German connection is supported by archaeological material excavated in 2019, such as led shot which originate from modern-day central Germany, according to isotope analyses by Igor Villa at University of Berns (forthcoming report on the GRIBSHUNDEN underwater excavations, “Gribshunden, marinarkeologisk undersökning 2019).
In light of the recent underwater survey with metal detectors aimed at finding bronze guns on the wreck site, it is also worth noting that Reimar Kock states that neither King John nor the Lübeckians used bronze guns on ships before 1511 (“van missinges geschutte thor seewart thoföhren dede men noch anno 1511 ock noch nicht weten, denn tho der tidt habben de lubischen erstmals sölcke grote geschutte jegen den köningk vnde der könink de Lubische gebruket”). Taken together with Svaning’s reference to salvage operations, there is thus little hope of finding bronze guns or other valuable goods of metal on the wreck in the future, except those that had been inaccessible to salvaging or not deemed particularly valuable.
The cultural value of GRIBSHUNDEN, however, loses none of its importance. The wreck site is an invaluable source of information regarding ship technology, weaponry as well as social and political life in the Late Middle Ages. If the right questions are posed, and the committed research efforts can continue in both the historical and archaeological field, the GRIBSHUNDEN wreck site will be able to shed unparalleled light on all of these aspects and many more. A wealth of information has already been gained from this wreck site in the previous years, making GRIBSHUNDEN internationally known and demonstrating the importance of the wreck, not only for the history of Scandinavia but Europe and the world. Much research remains to be done on the site but, as evidenced by the newly found source, diving into the historical archives may yet yield essential pieces of the puzzle.
A comprehensive research report (edited by Johan Rönnby, MARIS/Södertörn University) containing our current body of knowledge of GRIBSHUNDEN and the results from the excavations of 2019 is soon to be published. A research paper with an in-depth analysis of the historical sources, written by SoCA members Rolf Warming and Antti Ijäs, is also in the making.
Latin transcription by Peter Zeeberg (det Danske Sprog- og Litteraturselskab):
5 Porro autem adueniente die quo trium regnorum Proceres ad præscriptum conuentum Calmarniensem venturi erant, consueta ægritudine sua correptus Steno, quia adesse non poterat, præmisso Calmarniæ nuncio valetudinem excusauit. Quam ob rem huius conuentus dies ad festiuitatem sequentem D. Martini prorogatus est. Quo appropinquante, Rex spem pacis atque sarciendæ concordiæ minime vanam sibi faciens, Ioannem Brocstorpium summum regni Daniæ pontificem, Ericum Othsøn, Paulum Laxmannum magistrum aulæ, Eschildum Gøig regni Marschalcum, et plerosque alios de sua voluntate plene instructos, ad prædictum [R3] conuentus locum anno supra monstrato in Sueciam mittit: ipse breui post bonæ spei plenus, quod diuturnam rebellionem pertæsi Sueci, rebelles animos iam posituri essent, classe octodecim nauium tanta celeritate abeuntes consequitur, vt breui post tempore secundo vento in Egesunt delatus: is portus non procul ab Rothnabio oppido est: ex eo ad consiliarios qui in æquore Espesundensi tempestatem expectabant, literas dederit, eosque ad colloquium ad se euocarit.
6 Quibus conuenientibus atque consilia inter se conferentibus, tormentarius puluis in vna nauium regis, quam Griffshunt appellabant, subito incenditur, incertum vnde: nonnulli fulmine correptum, alij casu fortuito inflammatum scribunt. Remiges cum ad extinguendum incendium accurrerent, ita fumo flammaque inuoluti sunt, vt plerosque illorum nimius æstus suffocatos illico strangularit: alios ita excoctos reddiderit, vt ab eo tempore biduum intra extincti sint: nonnulli qui supererant diu ægra traxerint corpora: nec defuerunt qui dum vnum periculum incautius deuitarent, in aliud æque formidabile præ nimio metu incurrentes, se in mare præcipites dederint atque in vndis misere perierint.
7 Secuta mox nocte insequenti tempestas validissima, quæ regiam classem ita breui temporis momento toto disiecit pelago, ut quo in loco cæteræ essent, nauium nulla satis compertum haberet. Eiecta breui horarum spacio, vt nautæ contra vim æstus leuarent naues, bona quamplurima in profundum, periclitatum grauissime, ac trepidatum quantum in nullo unquam magis uitæ discrimine. Ad postremum quiescente tempestate, postquam regia classis in diuersa ui turbinis atque procacitate procellæ disiecta, in eundem portum iterum conuenisset, nauium nulla inuenta est, quam non grauissime tempestas afflixerat. Vna suppellectilem Regiam vehens, literas et item documenta alia, quibus in eo conuentu Regi vtendum erat, quo casu perijt incertum, vado ne illisa, an vndis obruta, postea nunquam visa est. Signa hæc Sueticum bellum præcessere, quod paulo post ob Stenonis aduersæque partis pertinaciam incœptum, formidabiles tumultus in hac boreali mundi parte excitauit, plurimumque sanguinis ciuilis vtrinque absorpsit.
8 [Transcribed by Rolf Warming] Porro postquam Rex cum Senatoribus trium regnorum, excepto Stenone qui aberat, Calmarniam venisset, in portu Egesundensi naufragorum bonorum ac supellectilis Regiæ pridem in mare eiectæ, magna pars a nautis reperta est.
English translation (translated by Rolf Warming based on Peter Zeeberg’s Danish translation):
5 Now that the day approached when the noblemen from the three kingdoms would arrive at the meeting in Calmar, Sten fell ill with his usual sickness and sent word to Calmar in advance to notify that he could not be present at the meeting due to health issues. The meeting was therefore postponed to the feast of Saint Martin. When the day approached, the king entertained hopes of restoring the peace and union, and he sent the Danish archbishop Jens Brostrup, Erik Ottesen, Hofmeister Poul Laxmand, Marshall of the Realm Eskil Gøye and numerous other – all thoroughly instructed of his will – to Sweden to the aforementioned place where the meeting was to take place that year. Hoping that the Swedes had grown weary of their constant rebellion and now wanted to abandon their insubordination, he [King Hans] followed with a fleet of 18 ships, and it went so quickly that he soon arrived at Egesund after having been carried by a good wind. It is a harbor not far from Ronneby, and from there he sent a letter to his advisors, who were anchored at Espesund awaiting better weather, and he called upon them to meet with him.
6 When they had arrived and were in the midst of negotiations, the gunpowder on one of the king’s ships, which was called Gribshunden, suddenly caught fire. It is unclear whence it ensued: Some say that it was because of lightning while others say it was a fortuitous accident. When the mariners came running to extinguish the fire, they became so engulfed by smoke and fire that numerous of them were choked by the fierce heat. Others were so severely injured by the heat that they died within the next two days. Those that survived suffered from their injuries for a long time. And there were also those who in a careless attempt to avoid the one danger ran into another equally as terrible danger when they plunged themselves headlong into the sea and died pitifully.
7 During the following night, violent stormy weather scattered the king’s fleet over the whole sea in an instant so that none of the ships knew where the others were located. The mariners cast much of the cargo overboard within a few hours in order to make the ships lighter. The danger was imminent and the fear greater than in any other life-threatening situation. Finally, the storm wore off and when the royal fleet, which had been put into disorder by the force of the hurricane and the fierce weather, was reunited in the harbor, there was not a single ship present which had not been severely damaged by the weather. One of the ships, which carried the royal furnishings as well as correspondence and other documents to be used at the meeting was never seen again. What had happened to it – whether it had gone aground or had sunk – is not known. These signs preceded the war which broke out with Sweden shortly after owing to Sten and the stubbornness of the opposition party – a war which resulted in formidable turmoil in this northern part of the world and great blood spills of the citizens of these lands.
8 [translated from Latin by Rolf Warming] Moreover, after the King had come to [the meeting at] Calmar with senators of the three kingdoms (except Sten Sture who was absent), sailors recovered major parts of shipwrecked goods and the royal furniture at Egesund that had been thrown into the sea.
Eriksson, N. 2020. Figureheads and Symbolism Between the Medieval and the Modern: The ship Griffin or Gribshunden, one of the last Sea Serpents? Mariner’s Mirror 106 (3): 262-276. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/…/10…/00253359.2020.1778300 [Accessed 24.11.2020].
Rosæfontanus, Petrus Parvus. 1561. Refutatio calumniarum cujusdam Joannis Magni Gothi … Huic accessit chronicon sive historia Joannis regis Daniæ in declarationem ejusdem refutationis.
Rönnby, J. (ed.), 2015. Gribshunden (1495): Skeppsvrak vid Stora Ekön, Ronneby, Blekinge.Marinarkologiska undersökningar 2013–2015. Blekinge museum rapport 21. Blekingemuseum/Södertörns högskola.
Sjöblom, I. 2015. Idenfiering och historiskt sammanhang. In Rönnby, J. (ed.), Gribshunden(1495): Skeppsvrak vid Stora Ekön, Ronneby, Blekinge:3149. Blekinge Museum/Södertörns högskola.
Warming, R. 2015.Gribshunden: Significance and Preliminary Investigations. Society for Combat Archaeology. Available at: http://combatarchaeology.org/gribshunden-significance-and-preliminary-investigations/ [Accessed 22.11.2020].
Warming, R. 2020.Notes on the Guns and Gun Carriages Aboard GRIBSHUNDEN (1495). Society for Combat Archaeology. Available at: http://combatarchaeology.org/guns-and-gun-carriages-aboard-gribshunden-1495/ [Accessed 22.11.2020].
Zeeberg, P. 2003. Hans Svaning og hans latinske Danmarkshistorie. By, maersk og geest 15. Kulturhistorisk årbog for Ribe-egnen. Ribe: Ribe Byhistoriske Arkiv & Den antikvariske Samling i Ribe.
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Rolf is the founder of the Society for Combat Archaeology (SoCA). He holds an MA degree in Maritime Archaeology from the University of Southampton and another MA degree in Prehistoric Archaeology from the University of Copenhagen. His studies have preeminently been on the subject of combat and conflict in the past, ranging from Mesolithic violence to organized state formation in the Renaissance. He has achieved the rank of sergeant in the Royal Danish Army. In addition to this, Rolf is the chief instructor of Weapons Combat Systems, a weaponry-based martial art which he teaches on both a national and international level through classes, seminars, etc.