A Pirate’s Life: 6 Swashbuckling Medieval Pirates

Depiction of Pining and Pothorst meeting a Native American by Bernard Hoetger. Wikipedia

Didrik Pining (1428-1491)

Didrik Pining was a notable German pirate who is believed to have been born around 1428 in Hildesheim in Germany. Hanseatic records place him a privateer or a captain working in the service of Hamburg until 1468. He was tasked with hunting down and capturing English merchant ships in the North Atlantic Ocean. Pining and his partner Hans Pothorst were known by the Hanseatic League as “pirates who did much damage to Hanse towns.” He went into the service of Denmark until Christian I of Denmark and his son John of Denmark from 1468 till 1478. It was during this period that Pining and Pothorst are said to have been distinguished as “not less as capable seamen than as matchless freebooters.”

One of the main reasons that Didrik Pining is remembered today is because some believe that Pining and Pothorst researched North America twenty years before Christopher Columbus did. In the early 1470s Pining was made leader of an expedition northward toward Greenland. He was with Porthorst and other Portuguese explorers on the long expedition. The expedition started in Bergen and then went through Iceland and continued on to Greenland and after which they discovered the “Land of Codfish” which is presumed to be Newfoundland or Labrador. In 1478 Pining was appointed Governor of Iceland which some argue was a reward for discovering the “Land of the Codfish.” The idea remains contested and debated among scholars.

From 1478 until 1481, Didrik Pining enjoyed his time as Governor of Iceland. In 1481, he was said to have “fared out of Iceland” but he was present at the funeral of King Christian I of Denmark. In 1484, he and his men were accused of having raped women and stolen money from farmers. the accusations did not stop him from becoming knighted in Norway and having a personal coat of arms which featured a grappling hook. It also did not prevent him from becoming governor over all of Iceland in 1489. His godson and nephew would succeed him in 1490.  Throughout this period, he continued his life of piracy, patrolling the North Atlantic waters and playing a major roe lint eh Anglo-Danish War. Hans Pothorst was always by his side through all of his sea-faring adventures.

In 1484, he captured three ships which he brought to King John of Denmark. After which he joined John in Bergen where he was made admiral of the royal fleet. As part of his new position he led the fleet to the island of Gotland and secured it for Denmark in 1487. Pining either died or was killed in 1491 somewhere around Finnmark or the North Cape.