The members of the Hanseatic League were all independent ‘free cities’ owing direct allegiance to the Holy Roman Emperor. In 1361–70, they were powerful enough to go to war with Denmark, and win, enforcing their monopoly of Danish trade and confirming it through a further war (1428–35). At their height, in the 15th century, the Hanse were Europe’s shipbuilders of choice; they cleared the Baltic of pirates and privateers and dominated a lucrative trade in eastern Baltic timber, amber, honey, furs, wax and flax, bringing back the cloth and manufactories from Atlantic ports. The first cracks in their supremacy came with defeat by the Dutch (1438–41), who went on the seize control of the Polish grain trade. The rising nation states along their trade routes began to resent, and erode, Hanseatic privileges. The Russians closed the Kontor (trading post) at Novgorod (1494), while their former centres in London and Bruges waned.
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